Someone died on our stretch of the River this morning.

Written by Andrea of Cullom Ave. December 14, 2020

homeless encampment under the bridge

Someone died on “my” stretch of the River this morning.

I believe it was the guy who had been sleeping in this tent.

This tent was the 2nd to show up under the bridge. It was set up pretty precariously, on an angle on the bank. There was another guy living there longer, in a gray tent set up well, hidden under the bridge. He seemed to have a pretty good system set up. There was one morning his shopping cart up top was full of firewood. The next morning he had a campfire going.

Other mornings I sometimes smelled a fire I couldn’t see. I think those fires were smaller. They smelled like they were built with wood he found, not “proper” firewood.

Yesterday morning, the first morning this orange tent was there, there was a campfire again. For the first time, there were voices coming from that fire. The way there should be around a campfire.

Today, the orange tent was at the water’s edge, on its side like this. I had worried it would slide. I had also worried it would draw attention – it was to the side of the bridge instead of directly under it, and orange. So when I saw the blue lights of cop cars, and then several people walking up from the water, I was sad to see what I knew would be inevitable – cops moving the guys along. They’d become too visible.

I was wrong. A man had died.

The cops didn’t like me talking to the other guy – the guy I think was there for longer and had the systems set up. They definitely wanted me to move along.

Their body language was a little less suspicious when I talked directly to them.

* Did someone go in the water?

* [[ slight nod ]]

* Have they been rescued yet?

* [[ slight shake of the head ]]

* Are they still in the water?

* [[slight shake of the head ]] “He’s deceased.”

I told the other guy I was sorry about his buddy. That I’d seen him in the mornings and I was rooting for him.

The cop clearly wanted me to move on.

I thought about going back with a cup of coffee and a blanket. The other guy was sitting on the ground wearing what looked like a pair of scrubs. Not warm enough for below freezing temperatures – especially if you’re in shock or if you’re damp yourself. I really wanted the cops to have given him a blanket.

I didn’t go back because I figured they would be gone by the time I got there.

Later on my walk I saw a muskrat hanging out on the tree that fell several weeks ago, while a couple seagulls called over head. I was reminded that the world keeps going.

And then I was reminded how easily we say that when we don’t know someone. Even if we’ve seen them every morning. And how impossibly hard it is to say that when it’s someone dear to us instead of a stranger.

And I thought of the nearly 300,000 strangers who have died in this country from COVID. People who are strangers – almost 300,000 deaths that I can feel bad about, and almost immediately wax philosophical about the circle of life or the turning of the seasons.

I expect very few people will show up to mourn the death of the man who died in “my” river this morning.

My point is simply this. There are too many people who have not gotten the deaths they deserved, and whose lives won’t be mourned the way they should. Their deaths aren’t less tragic, their lives not less deserving of mourning, because they’re homeless or because they’re part of a pandemic with numbers too big to get our hearts or our brains around.

A man died on “my” section of the river this morning. May he rest in peace.

Dear neighbors, A caring community responds to suffering.

Andrea wrote this piece, we thank her and are grateful.

Other riverbank neighbors left flowers at the bridge and shared stories of brothers and friends who fell into homelessness. How we tried to help, often for years and decades, painful witness to suffering.

As a community, Riverbank Neighbors have a longtime history of working for social justice and peace as well as environmental issues.

The more that class inequities make some callous, the more we double down and refuse to be separated from the refugees, asylum seekers, homeless, and dis-empowered. They are our brothers, our mothers, our kin, our human family.

Lets lead towards a better world.

You are invited to visit our social justice page, where we have collected information about how to help the plight of the homeless and measures which contribute to prevent homelessness, like the eviction moratorium and mortgage assistance and places to donate.