The Longest Night of the Year

Jeff Landry stood in the South Park Blocks of Portland, in the rain, with a group of another dozen or so folks who'd taken new names, briefly, between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. Musicians played guitars softly while Keith Vann explained why we'd come together, handing us our new names—-printed in large, bold font on regular paper, as he spoke. Then Mayor Tom Potter talked about the shame and the waste of human life, of people who die anonymously on the streets every year.

Jeff Landry can't remember now whether it was Keith Vann or Tom Potter who said that 127 or 125 cities in America have a memorial every December 21st to hold, to speak, and to honor the names of homeless people who die on the streets each year.

Many more than those whose names we held have died this year, but most agencies—-hospitals, shelters, morgues, and such can't give out information about clients who pass away because of confidentiality and the deceased person's right to privacy. Memory and word of mouth had conjured the few we would speak of tonight. An older man, homeless, said Hooper Detox was a good place for names. He'd once helped them carry out box loads of deceased people's records. "They know whenever one of us dies," he said, as though he considered himself one of the dead already.


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