Vancouver City Council Member Ty Stober addressed the crowd gathered at the steps of St. Paul Lutheran Church Thursday night, and said something that came to him while he was thinking for what to share with the other mourners was the idea of stories.
The crowd held candles, sang and mourned together Thursday night to honor the estimated 17 people, according to organizers, who died while homeless in Clark County in the past year.
Stober said someone recently told him “those people” who hang around or use the Share House, a homeless shelter downtown, don’t contribute to the community. The notion broke his heart, he said.
“You think about the butterfly effect,” he said, the idea that small causes can have larger effects, or a butterfly’s flapping wings can lead to a tornado on the other side of the world.
Last year, when people gathered to mourn the previous year’s unsheltered dead, they didn’t know Ronald Heubner, who was homeless, would, the very next day, no longer be with them, Stober said.
They didn’t know Sungok Park, who had just found housing in time to be diagnosed with cancer, would die a few days later. Nor did anyone think they’d be without all the other names on the list, each one someone’s friend or family member.
“Each and every one of us has a story and each and every one of us has an impact on the world around us,” Stober said. “They were all butterflies. They all flapped their wings, they all made tornadoes happen in other parts of the world. So let’s remember that tonight.”
Adam Kravitz, another advocate, founded Outsiders Inn, a Vancouver-based homeless advocacy and services organization.
He said he started speaking up for homeless people while he, too was homeless. His logic, he said, was someone had to speak up for these people, and for this year’s vigil, he thought it would be appropriate to share some stories from those still outside and struggling.
“It is really about stories,” he said. “It is really about each individual. It is really about looking people in the eye and smiling and giving them hope.”
He shared what people told him:
• ” ‘Stop looking at me, and look at me like this,’ and he smiled.”
• ” ‘We’re humans, not homeless.’ ”
• ” ‘The numbers have grown and nothing has changed.’ That was repeated about 15 times.”
• ” ‘There is no magic pill, even if you do everything right, and follow every step in the book, it’s still hurry up and wait. You have no choice. You have to camp. But who can camp at night and work by day with laws so strict that you lose what little scraps you have saved. Oh that’s right, pretty much no one can do it, at all. So it feels like a lie, no one will treat you with respect, even when you do everything right.’ ”
• ” ‘You never even talk to me, not one time. Everybody thinks you know me. That’s bull crap.’ ”
• ” ‘Someone spat on me, and then someone else gave me a leather jacket, all in the same five minutes. I can’t stand this world.’ ”
These people deal with traumatic living situations daily, Kravitz said, and he praised the efforts of every volunteer and service group trying to help, saying it truly has saved lives.
Still, he said, again, the numbers are growing and little is changing.
Tom Iberle, executive director at the Friends of the Carpenter social services nonprofit, read aloud the names this year.
The honored this year included Heubner, Park, Roger S. Wilson, Jake Talley, Richard Waller, Joey Sigman, Dennis Lynch, Kevin Lisman, Raymond Bartley, Matt Solop, James Martin, Randy LeRoy, Michael Holmes, Roberty Sargent, Daniel L. Smith, Eric Studer and one unidentified man.
“In many cases, this service will be the only commemoration of their lives,” Iberle said.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed where Outsiders Inn is based. The homeless advocacy group was founded and operates in Vancouver.