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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Homeless, supporters gather for 10th annual memorial

In the courtyard of the CHAS Denny Murphy Clinic, CHAS Clinic administrator Laura Lambert-Booth, left, and Stephany Beernink, with the Spokane Homeless Coalition, each places a bell on a holiday tree with the name of a homeless person who died recently. (Colin Mulvany)

Don Juan Foster collected cans for money and often slept on a bench just off the Centennial Trail in Mission Park. The 55-year-old died after being hit by a car.

Kathy Thompson used the House of Charity as her address to receive mail from her family in Maine. She died in her tent along the Spokane River in Peaceful Valley.

Robert Morris always wore an Army fatigue jacket. He stored cash in his post office box for safe keeping, and among the homeless the 82-year-old was known as “Alabama.”

“He’d quit drinking and he was still ornery,” said Ed McCarron, House of Charity director. After all those years on the streets, “he just wore out.”

Homeless advocates read those names aloud Friday during the 10th annual homeless memorial at Community Health Association of Spokane. The event memorialized 33 Spokane-area homeless men and women who have died since November 2013.

Spokane joined more than 150 other communities nationwide holding similar events this week to bring attention to homelessness and to remember those who have died while living without a place to call home. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, more than 600,000 people in the United States are homeless on any given night.

“Most people are spending the night either in homeless shelters or in some sort of short-term transitional housing,” said Aaron Wilson, CHAS’ chief executive officer. “Slightly more than a third are living in cars or under bridges or are in some other way living unsheltered.”

Wilson added that this event is important because “it really brings home to people that we have homeless here.”

Close to 50 people attended the memorial under dreary, gray skies, some placing bells on a miniature Christmas tree as symbols of those who’ve passed.

With each name of someone Kyle Matthew Bowen remembered, he kissed his hat. “In a heartbeat, that could be one of us,” the homeless man said.

Daniel Schanzenbaker spoke about his friends and the tragic ways some of them have died.

“The memories are hard to swallow. I’ve seen a lot of stuff,” said Schanzenbaker, who has been homeless often in the past two decades.

“I’ve seen people under the bridge killed for a can of beer,” an emotional Schanzenbaker told the crowd. “One man drowned in a puddle of water because he was drunk.”

Among the 33 remembered on Friday, the majority succumbed to illnesses, such as cancer or diabetes; some died as result of their lifestyles; and others had addictions they couldn’t escape.

McCarron remembered all who visited the House of Charity as “good guys” or as having “a big heart.”

“I’m homeless, I can relate,” said Danielle Meier, 24. “Those people made an impact in our life. This event allows us to be thankful for what we have. The people in Spokane are good to us.”