PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Street Roots — a non-profit that helps homeless people get back on their feet by selling newspapers — is mourning the loss of three vendors who struggled throughout their lives.
Dani Wyatt, David Tesawich and Andy Howard were Street Roots vendors who all passed a way in just the last couple of months. The non-profit said Dani died of heart failure and David from a stroke but they aren’t sure how Andy died.
“At Street Roots, nobody grieves alone,” vendor program director Cole Merkel said. “We really prioritize community in those moments. So for the vendors who have passed away, we’ve been holding memorial services. The vendors can come and share memories and light candles …. and really try to find a way for closure and a space for a community to talk to.”
Half the vendors are homeless, the other half live in affordable housing. But for those living on the streets, the very basics for living are not guaranteed.
“Not knowing where you’re doing to sleep, not knowing where your next meal is coming from can be a really difficult thing to do,” Merkel said.
Vendor Barbie Weber knew Dani Wyatt.
“She was energetic and funny,” Weber said. “She had a lot of friends in town.”
Weber said the vendors become like family. They understand each other and what it’s like to work for every last dollar.
“It is hard,” Weber said. “And then not only her — there’s been several that passed away. We don’t even know why or what. But our whole family has been sad about these deaths.”
Weber said she was making a good salary for a while until she got very sick.
“I went from $65,000 a year plus bonuses to zero income overnight,” Weber said.
Her story is not unusual. Many vendors have serious medical conditions that prevent them from working 9 to 5.
Are these three deaths part of a bigger trend?
“Homelessness is traumatic,” Merkel said. “Statistically people who experience homelessness die decades before the rest of the population.”
Many of them die so quietly and with so few people to notice. Some feel ready to give up.
“I can tell you most of us, we’re not afraid to die,” Weber said. “The reason that things are very difficult for us is because we don’t have what you call “the right address.” We are set up on the sidewalk. Somebody comes up to you and tells you to keep on moving. If you set up a tent, they come and take all your stuff. We have to rebuild constantly, constantly, constantly. That’s what makes it so hard.”
Street Roots said in total 7 vendors have passed away in 2018 already, compared to 3 all of last year.