Like many things affected by COVID-19, Clark County’s homeless population is at increased risk.
During Monday night’s local National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day service, held virtually because of the pandemic, speakers said much remains to be done to protect those without homes.
The names of 24 homeless people who died in 2020 in Clark County were read aloud on Monday, the winter solstice and longest night of the year. This year’s local event — the 30th annual nationwide — was hosted by the Council for the Homeless.
The service, which has been an outdoor candlelight vigil in previous years, is designed to recognize those who died on the streets or in emergency shelters from illness or conditions directly related to homelessness.
One of those names read, William Abbe, a 50-year-old who was shot by police and died on April 28, was highlighted by City Councilor Ty Stober.
“The real Mr. Abbe had left us years earlier when the community declared him a nonperson, ignored and forgotten,” Stober said, noting that even if Abbe had not died on that April day, his “death was a slow, drawn-out cancer imposed on the unhoused” and likely his name would be read at a future memorial.
The pandemic also brought another problem.
“Imagine walking for miles for a bathroom, or if you were staying out in the rain because everything was shut down and businesses closed their doors indefinitely,” said Adam Kravitz, shelter manager of The Outsiders Inn at St. Paul Lutheran Church in downtown Vancouver.
“Imagine the irony of a stay-at-home order,” Kravitz said. “Where do you go if you have no home to stay in? Living outside without (resources) will break you down mentally.”
Kravitz said he hopes people will have a new view of homelessness based on problems caused by the pandemic, such as businesses closing and folks needing unemployment assistance.
“I hope your perspective has changed a little,” he said. “We don’t want to see anyone else dying on our streets.”
The event concluded with a benediction by Pastor Cindy Muse of St. Andrew Lutheran Church.
The wall of the 24 names can be found on the West 14th Street side of St. Paul Lutheran Church through Christmas Day. Anyone is welcome to stop by and leave their own message on the wall or add a name of someone who was lost in 2020.
Monday’s virtual memorial event will also be available for viewing online at councilforthehomeless.org.
National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day began in 1990 by the National Coalition for the Homeless. Learn more at nationalhomeless.org.