Two days ago, a man was found dead near the riverfront-- almost surely a person without a home, I knew at once. This morning, I called the Springfield police and found out that his name was Wayne Martin. He was, I believe, in his late 40's or early 50's. The detective told me that his death was not being treated as a criminal matter; that he appeared to have died of natural causes.
By describing Mr. Martin's death as not a criminal matter, of course the detective meant that no other person murdered him. In every other way, though, the fact that a man can die in a nearly public place because he has nowhere to go is criminal in every other sense of the word.
I admit I barely remember Wayne Martin; others knew him better. I know he stayed at Sanctuary City for quite a while. He stayed at the Warming Place (when it was open) a few times at most, and probably never stayed at Worthington St. Shelter. Some people just can't hack shelters. Either they don't like rules, hate crowds, fear being robbed, can't sleep with the noise or, for those who are emotionally fragile, feel pushed to the edge and sometimes beyond.
Open Pantry Community Services has an informal tally of the names of homeless people who have died. Facts about a homeless person who dies can be thin sometimes; other times, everybody has a tale about the poor dead soul. The one common truth about all of them: they died without a home.
I must take this opportunity to remark upon the extraordinary dignity with which OPCS has always treated the homeless and poor people who come to them for help. They need the city's help to get through a rough patch. Give Mayor Sarno's office a call at 787-6100 and ask him to support the Open Pantry.
Illustration: Michael Leunig