Michael Harvey ¡Presente!

As the number 14 bus crosses the Hawthorne Bridge into Downtown the fog has created mountains that the tops of the skyscrapers poke their tops through. The view is breathtaking in its beauty but it signals to me that I’ve underdressed for morning. As I get off the bus a moment later the cold is bitter in a way that’s been almost entirely absent this winter and the breeze off the Willamette brings a bite that reminds me why handing out coffee can be such a big deal to our friends. We like to stagger where we go from week to week, it’s a nice surprise for many when we show up offering “Coffee or hot chocolate?” instead of the regular wake up calls they often receive like “You can’t sleep here” or “Time to get moving” and we’d like to spread that around a bit from week to week.

We’ve written before about our trips to hand out coffee, but something happened last Wednesday that made this week is a little different. The coffee, the banana or pop-tarts aren’t really the point of it for us and there weeks we don’t hand out half of the stuff we bring downtown because we’ve started talking to friends we meet. We listen to stories, sometimes talk about favorite books and on occasion field the question “Why the hell are you out here?” Last week under the Morrison Bridge we got to meet a wonderful man named Michael, with whom we sat and chatted for about 20 mins and I left that conversation genuinely looking forward to the next time I’d run into him. But I won’t be meeting up with Michael again anytime soon.

That evening someone beat Michael to death. Left him dying mere feet from where we had met him that morning. So, with heavy hearts we offered our friends under the Morrison coffee and then welcomed those who wanted to join us in a brief and inadequate vigil to remember our friend. According to one of Michael’s friends it took the PPD and the ambulance 45 minutes to show up once called. “I partly blame them for him dying that way” and why shouldn’t he?

There is no point I wanted to make with this post, no big idea I wanted to present you with. I just hate watching my friends dying in the street – admittedly most of them are meeting their ends more slowly than Micheal did, but make no mistake they’re still dying out there – and it is due, at least in part, to our collective neglect.

“Michael Harvey ¡Presente!