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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane homeless activist dying of liver disease won’t give up on his life’s work

Alfredo LLamedo, center, exits the Spokane City Council chambers with help from friends and loved ones after a meeting on Monday, July 15, 2019, in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

For the past year, activist Alfredo LLamedo has lived two lives.

Online and at protests, where he’s been a fixture for the better part of a decade, he’s his usual, fervent, boisterous,yelling, swearing self. Most always at those in power, and especially at those named David Condon or Donald Trump.

But at home, far from the spotlight, he’s on a collision course with the inevitable. He’s crying and hugging more. He’s making up lost time with family, including his stepmother. He’s being visited by longtime adversaries in local government, who acknowledge the value of his efforts on behalf of Spokane’s homeless, even if they have clashed over his approach.

He’s saying goodbye after every hello, no longer sure of its permanence.

LLamedo was diagnosed in August with decompensated cirrhosis of the liver. He’s going to let his liver shut down, since he considers himself the polar opposite of the ideal organ recipient.

The terminal condition, as he explains it, is most likely a side affect of a “hard life,” much of it spent on the streets, full of drinking and drug abuse.

Doctors, he says, gave him a 50-50 shot at making it a full year. And that’s if he followed a strict diet change and took all the medication. Not only has he forgone a laxative that a liver specialist prescribed, he recently made the difficult decision to help the organ kill him.

On July 1, he began one last boycott, a hunger strike with the exception of alcoholic beverages.

“You can either choose to lay down and go down, or you can choose to live your life,” he said in May, his hands clasped around a coffee at his favorite joint along Main Avenue. “It’s kind of unnerving not knowing when for sure that time is going to come. But you do what you got to do.”

Then Saturday, LLamedo again cut back, forgoing all foods and liquids altogether. To those who know him best, that’s vintage LLamedo. Once he digs in, there’s no budging.

The way Joy Fradin, one of his closest friends and confidants explains it, he’ll listen – but that doesn’t mean giving an inch. You might as well not even try.

“When he plants his feet, you’re not going to move him,” she said.

That stubbornness is how, for the past few years, LLamedo has become one of the largest, if not the most consistent, thorns in the side of local elected officials.

Whether he agrees with their politics or not, the 60-year-old would criticize members of the Spokane City Council, often leaving amid a flurry of expletives and a security escort. He often saved his most creative insults for Condon. Last he equated the mayor to the Grinch in a high castle.

“Some people are going to work through the system, and some people are going to pressure the system,” said City Council President Ben Stuckart, who this year is running for mayor. “I respect him a lot because he lives by his ideals.”

LLamedo’s distinct form of pressure is what led him to a dayslong hunger strike in the cold last November, which eventually morphed into Camp Hope, a homeless encampment outside of City Hall.

Despite his condition, LLamedo ate nothing and drank only broth, protein shakes and Gatorade. A small coalition of homeless people formed around him. There to protest the city’s controversial sit-lie ordinance, his nights sitting in the cold eventually paid off. The City Council suspended the law until shelter space was available.

“He truly, truly loves people,” Fradin said. “The downtrodden. And in a selfless way. An extremely selfless way. I’ve never met anyone who is so selfless.”

Councilman Breean Beggs, who agreed with Stuckart that LLamedo could be abrasive to the point of being counterproductive, also said the activist’s efforts demanded a level of respect. Especially when it came to fighting for the homeless.

“He’s definitely had an impact on us,” Beggs said. “He’s a person who speaks from his heart. And sometimes he speaks from a sense of anger.”

That anger got him into trouble. In addition to multiple suspensions on Facebook, where he’s often aggressively reacting to headlines in the news, LLamedo has been arrested twice in the last half-decade while protesting.

In 2015, LLamedo led a protest in the Tri-Cities over the killing of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, a 35-year-old man who was fatally shot by three Pasco police officers as he was running away.

LLamedo was one of many who flooded the streets in February 2015, shortly after the shooting, taking over a bridge spanning the Columbia River as he chanted, “We will not be silenced.”

He returned again later that year only to be arrested – for jaywalking. Attorney Jeffry Finer said LLamedo refused to plead guilty , promising instead to fight the charges. The city eventually dropped the charges.

Finer remembers when LLamedo was taken to jail with another protester. Both had to spend at least one night locked up with the general population.

“Alfredo, with his master’s degree in social work, went right over and began organizing,” Finer said in an email. “He started suggesting how they could resist and fight for better food and some time out of the cells. He worked to radicalize the entire cell block. … Jail officials moved him to a single cell.”

Then in December, when city officials began clearing out Camp Hope as shelter beds became available, LLamedo and activist Charlie Milo Johansen were arrested.

Again, LLamedo refused to plead guilty, despite the charge being a misdemeanor of obstruction. Finer said body camera footage showed LLamedo hurling a bevy of insults at police officers, though he never got in their way. In fact, video seemed to show him helping some people gather their belongings.

LLamedo also recorded his interaction, which was later uploaded to YouTube.

The city dropped the charges a few months later. Earlier this month, a family at the camp filed a lawsuit against the city, saying officials violated their rights by threatening them with misdemeanor citations and destroying personal belonging

When Finer thinks of LLamedo, he said he’s often reminded of a judge in New York City who said “blessed are the troublemakers.”

“As long as they’re nonviolent, troublemakers should be given a wide berth,” Finer said. “They should get some slack.”

Last Monday, as LLamedo readied himself to attend one final City Council meeting, he was greeted by multiple friends, who had stopped by to say hello – and goodbye – for maybe the last time.

As someone who struggled with homelessness for much of his life, LLamedo was staying with his daughter, before moving to activist Joan Medina’s spare bedroom in the Shadle area. He said his children didn’t want to watch him die.

There, next to his bed, were the bottles of alcohol providing the only nourishment left in his life – small bottles of vodka, bloody mary mix, Baileys Irish Cream and two six-packs of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, next to a cooler of ice.

And on his wall, a drawing of Camp Hope. And an award from the Northwest Fair Housing Alliance that he was set to receive in April 2020, but was given to him early.

Several City Council members stopped by the makeshift death bed, including Stuckart and Councilwoman Kate Burke, who said she wanted to thank him for always holding her accountable.

“He’s gotten a lot of people involved,” Burke said. “And he’s gotten a lot of people to speak out. I think that’s amazing.”

Councilman Beggs, who helmed last Monday’s council meeting in Stuckart’s absence, respected the council’s three-minute time limit for public comment. However, he made sure LLamedo, who required assistance as he gingerly approached the microphone, was the final speaker.

When LLamedo’s three minutes expired, Beggs quickly announced that the meeting was officially over. All six council members and the audience sat silently as LLamedo continued his speech.

He recounted growing up in New Jersey and visiting the American Museum of Natural History, where a 94-foot model of a blue whale is suspended from the ceiling. Returning as an adult, LLamedo looked at the whale and felt it represents the world, and humanity as just “little specks” in comparison.

“To imagine yourself at that scale – are things really that important, other than caring about your fellow human being and making sure that everyone in the world has their basic needs met?” LLamedo asked. “At this stage of my life, I don’t think so.”

After spending the “last 10 years of my life dedicated to trying to help those that are on the street that are less fortunate than I am,” LLamedo reminded the council that it has “the power to change the lives of other human beings.”

LLamedo told the council that homeless women are being attacked and raped in downtown Spokane.

“How can we let that happen?” he said.

And after many battles with the council, LLamedo struck a conciliatory tone. His two lives, completely merged.

“I can’t do it anymore, so I’m passing the baton to a lot of other people that are out there,” he said. “But it comes down to you. The buck stops here. Please try. Try harder. Try harder. I’ve given you a hard time in the past. I chose not to tonight, because I want you to feel loved. I love each and every one of you.”

Staff reporter Adam Shanks contributed to this story.