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'They were every bit our neighbors': Vigils honor those who lived and died on the streets

The night of remembrance shed light on those who are still living without shelter and in need of help.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Communities in Portland and Vancouver held candle vigils Tuesday night to remember those who died while living on the street over the last year.

"They were every bit our neighbors," said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.

In Multnomah County, 126 unhoused people died in 2020 and 766 unhoused people have died in the last decade. 

“I lived on the street for over half of my life,” said Alan Evans, founder and CEO of Helping Hands Reentry Outreach Centers. The nonprofit operates Bybee Lakes Hope Center in North Portland, where community members gathered for a vigil. 

The transitional housing facility provides beds, homeless services, job training, treatment and more. Two years ago, it was the Wapato Corrections Facility, a Multnomah County jail that never opened.

“There was barbed wire and everybody said it was a prison,” said Evans. “This isn't a prison, it's transformation and a redemption and an opportunity.”

In Vancouver, community members held a similar vigil at St. Paul Lutheran Church. Attendees remembered 30 people who lived and died without shelter.

“[I spent] so many years of living out there and not sure I was going to make it through the year,” said attendee Adam Kravitz, now a homeless services provider. “To be able to be part of this and to speak out and speak up for people, I can't not do this event.”

Both vigils took place on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. It was a reminder that for those living on the streets, every night is long and difficult.

“Could you imagine trying to survive every second of your day just figuring out how you're going to stay warm?” said Evans. “And then be asked to follow up with all these appointments in different locations.”

Evans is comforted knowing that many will likely avoid that hardship by getting help through Bybee Lakes Hope Center, where each life is seen as a light in the shadow of too many deaths.