Standing next to a photo softly lit by candlelight, Jessica Kovak fought back tears as she remembered her friend’s goofy smile. Or the time he asked her to dance.
Maybe the way he would hang stars up in his closet, to remember the night sky he stared at while homeless.
“Who thinks of that?” she said. “He wanted it to feel familiar.”
A few hundred yards away and up the hill, that friend, Clay Brock, lies unconscious in the Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center intensive care unit, a tangle of tubes on his chest. He’s been there since Friday, after a vehicle hit him while he tried crossing Division Street. His fiancee Michele Purkey followed him, most likely in an attempt to help. Both were struck by a second car.
Purkey died, and Brock lived.
Both were among the hundreds of homeless people who sleep on Spokane’s streets. It’s there that they are remembered, and it was fitting that on Wednesday night at Blessings Under the Bridge’s weekly meal and clothing giveaway, Kovak and others sent words of encouragement.
Set up next to dozens of tables, Kovak, the founder and director of the decade-old nonprofit, laid out three photos of Brock and Purkey, and a stack of paper for people to sign. At the end of the night, she planned to carry the items up to Brock’s room.
“He’s just overcome so much,” Kovak said. “And I adore him. I absolutely adore him.”
Kovak wasn’t alone. Many Blessings volunteers remember the man with an infectious sense of humor who has frequented the area under Interstate 90 for about nine years.
In and out of jail and in between homes, many who knew him said he struggled with alcoholism. But when he was sober, he was about the best friend a person could ask for, they said. And he wanted to get better.
“He was a happy and caring man,” volunteer Renee Gomez said. “Always had a smile.”
Purkey, too, was a Blessings regular. Though not as routine as Brock, she left a mark on many. Especially on Brock.
Early last year, Kovak received a letter from Brock, who was in jail at the time, with the announcement. “She’s really loyal,” he wrote to her in perfect penmanship. “I asked her to marry me.”
As the clock moved closer to 6 p.m. Wednesday, and the line of homeless people grew, Kelly Kiki, the public relations manager of Blessings, took the microphone.
“We’re just going to think positive thoughts and keep the prayer coming,” he told the crowd. “When Clay comes around, and I hope it’s soon, he’s going to need those words of encouragement.”
Kiki, Kovak and her husband visited Brock Tuesday.
They sat with him, prayed with him. They held his hand and talked to him. They couldn’t be sure, but they swore he asked, “Where’s Michele?”
Later that night, Kiki wrote about the experience on Facebook. In a post that’s been liked over 700 times, Kiki wrote the accident “shows us yet once again the loneliness of homelessness.”
“We’ve never made a post that has had this much resolve,” Kiki said. “That says a lot about our friends out here.”
The couple’s life together had just started. Police haven’t arrested anyone in connection with the collisions, but officer John O’Brien, department spokesman, said the investigation remained active.
Kovak said in October the pair moved into an apartment not far from where they were hit. Having a place all of his own was a big deal for Brock, who’s been homeless since he was 13.
But now that his fiancee is dead, and without anyone paying the rent, it’s unclear what’s going to happen to him when or if he recovers.
“They had their struggles, but they really were good together,” she said.
One of the first in line to sign the paper for Brock was Sonja Jerve, 45, who has lived on the streets since 2012. From day one, she found a friend in him.
“My thoughts are with you,” she signed in big, bold letters. “Love, Sonja.”
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