COOS COUNTY — On the longest night of the year, every community in the country is honoring the homeless who died on the streets.
Next Friday, Dec. 21 at College Park Church, the public is invited to attend the 9th annual National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day.
For Bryan Fergelic, who is part of the homeless community, this event will be to honor his late friend Randy Watkins.
“He was a good guy,” Fergelic said as he sat inside the crowded Nancy Devereux Center, explaining that when he heard his friend was gone he was shocked. “I went around town asking people when I found out he died. Some thought he was still around, didn’t believe he was dead, but I saw it in the paper.”
Of the Dec. 21 homeless memorial, Fergelic hopes people attend to support people like Watkins.
“Not all homeless people are bad,” he said.
Devereux Center Director Tara Johnson said that the community honors the homeless by offering them essential items at the event, which include a meal and dessert.
“We have a brief service where we honor those who have died on the streets,” she said. “Generally, if the weather is not horrible, it is held outside and there is a candlelight portion to that so it is pretty touching and moving.”
This year, Johnson has noticed several have died on the streets, though she isn’t sure of the exact number.
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“Sometimes, when homeless people pass away, no one is aware or there’s not a service held for them,” she said. “So this is a chance for the homeless community to have closure on a life that was a friend, buddy or family member. It’s an opportunity to remember those who passed away.”
Every year, anywhere from 80 to 100 people attend. Though in the past it has been held at the Coos History Museum, it has been moved to College Park Church to make it easier for the homeless population to get there.
“We’re hopeful because a lot of the homeless are used to going to College Park already that we might see an increase in numbers because it’s a more central location,” Johnson said.
Transportation for the homeless community is being offered from Bunker Hill, the Airport Heights area, Simpson Park, and the Davey Jones Locker area in Charleston.
“We are utilizing private buses, vehicles and are waiting to hear from Yellow Cab if they will partner with us again this year,” Johnson said.
The local United Way chapter is collecting donations for the memorial, including nonperishable food items, hygiene products, clean and lightly used clothing, and supplies such as backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, hand warmers and flashlights.
Collection locations for these donations are at College Park Church at 2548 Newmark Ave. in North Bend, Refuge Church at 625 Commercial Ave. in Coos Bay, Oregon Pacific Bank at 915 South 1st St. in Coos Bay, Egyptian Theatre, Faith Lutheran Church at 2741 Sherman Ave. in Coos Bay, Harbor Assembly of God Church at 2050 Lincoln in North Bend, North Bend Presbyterian Church at 2239 Pony Creek Road, and the Pony Village Mall’s East Wing.
For more information about how to donate, call United Way at 541-267-5202.