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Shawn Vestal: In life, ‘Dutch Bros. Guy’ was seen by many, known by few

In the Google Maps image, you see him clearly: Sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk at the intersection of Division and Sharp, huddled behind a cardboard sign asking for help.

Steven J. Hackett was a fixture at that corner, so it’s only fitting he’s a part of the map. But he won’t be at his regular post any longer; police found him dead in an alley behind a nearby liquor store Monday. It was the kind of heartbreaking end his father had feared for Steven, after years of addiction and living on the streets.

“I think over the years alcohol got to him, and kind of screwed up his brain,” said his dad, Steve Hackett, 56, of Tumtum. “I helped him hundreds of times. Tried to get him help… I would go by (the corner), give him food, give him clothing.”

The cause of death is pending, awaiting further investigation and lab testing. A mini-memorial has sprung up at Division and Sharp, with balloons and flowers and handwritten signs.

“Don’t Steal a Dead Man’s Flowers, Please,” reads one sign.

“R.I.P Dutch Bros. Guy!” reads the writing on one balloon.

Dutch Bros. Guy. It’s a sadly fitting description for Hackett – someone seen, but not known, by many. A member of the drive-by population. A man wearing a garbage bag for a coat, using another garbage bag to contain his possessions, sitting on a sidewalk behind a sign reading “Please Help.”

Unseen by most were whatever demons put him there. Unknown by most were the fact that he had family and friends here, people who loved him and tried to help. He grew up in Spokane, attended Audubon Elementary and Garry Middle schools, and earned a GED in 2009. He held jobs in local fast-food outlets as a young man, and bought himself a truck.

“He was a great kid,” his father said. “He was his own personality. Upbeat. Well-loved.”

He began drinking and using drugs, and fell into the cycles that are familiar among homeless people: Going in and out of programs, getting help and spurning help, sobering up and falling off the wagon, leaving town and returning to town, landing back on the streets.

“That was his life,” Steve Hackett said.

Kirsten Zurfluh Baker of Spokane has started an online campaign to raise money for a service for Hackett, and she held a “panhandling” fundraiser for the effort as well. Baker, who runs a small nonprofit called Operation Love Like Buddy, said her organization’s goal is to “rehumanize Spokane’s homeless” population, through one-on-one interactions.

She wants to help us see and empathize with people like Hackett as members of the community and people living fully human lives – lives with joy and pain and love and struggle.

“Steven was known to the community as the Dutch Bros. Guy,” Baker wrote in a message. “But he was so much more than that. He was kind, gentle, thoughtful, grateful. … I want people to not be afraid to say hello, shake a hand and ask our homeless friends what their stories are.”

The GoFundMe page for Hackett had raised more than $3,000 toward a $5,000 goal.

Hackett was a regular presence on the corner outside Dutch Bros., familiar to anyone who drove through for coffee or sat waiting for the light to change at Sharp.

“He was here every day,” said Victoria Hunt, manager of the coffee shop. “I’ve worked here for about two years, and he was here before that.”

People at Dutch Bros. on Wednesday said Hackett was mostly a peaceful presence, but that he was sometimes apparently very intoxicated. There were police calls. There was also the time a police officer brought him a bag of burgers – something other friends and family members often did as well – and a video of the act drew attention online.

His father said his problems had escalated in the past seven or eight years. He stayed for a time at Eastern State Hospital, and then later in a group home, but always headed back to the streets. He stayed in different shelters over the years, and sometimes returned home briefly, but the elder Hackett had concluded a couple of years ago that his son was headed for a bad end if something didn’t change.

“I expected it for the last couple of years,” he said.

He said he last spoke to his son three weeks ago, at the corner of Division and Sharp. He talked to him, gave him some burgers. A little later, when Steve Hackett was out of town, his son called home, reached his brother and told him he needed a place to stay. They arranged for him to come home, his father said.

“But he didn’t show up,” he said.


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