Local homeless remembered in ceremony

By Sarah Brown
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

Approximately 50 people from throughout Linn and Benton counties attended the 14th annual Homeless Persons Memorial Service, held Wednesday night, Dec. 21, at the 2nd CHANCE Shelter in Albany.

Participants stood outside the shelter in nearly freezing temperatures, some with lit candles, while others who were receiving assistance from the shelter stood further away to smoke cigarettes.

It has become our tradition on winter’s longest night to honor those we have lost in the past year who have experienced the trauma of homelessness,” Community Services Consortium Housing Services Manager Dina Eldridge said. “All of these people were a part of our community, though to many they were invisible. On this night we say their name and light a candle so they will not be forgotten.”

Some 19 names were read while visitors placed electric candles on a table in their memory.

While the list of honorees for 2021 was a short one, sadly the list of people we honor here tonight is tragically long, most likely the longest since this ceremony began 14 years ago,” Eldridge said.

One of those names included a Lebanon man, Robert Halfacre, 35, who died after he was struck by a driver in April while attempting to walk across I-5.

Brock Byers and Shirley Byrd, who operate the Lebanon-based Family Assistance and Resource Center, which will manage the Sweet Home homeless facility, hold a candle during the memorial service in Albany Dec. 21.

Shirley Byrd and Brock Byers, operators of Sweet Home’s incoming homeless encampment through the Lebanon-based Family Assistance and Resource Center, attended the ceremony with Sweet Home resident Nora Stengrim, who spoke of Jammers, “the local-legend homeless guy.”

“He laughed and joked and told stories and tried to entertain people until his last year when his health got the best of him,” she said. “You couldn’t be around him without convicting your spirit in some way or another.”

Eldridge said there have been years when no one spoke in eulogy at the event, but several stood toward the crowd this year to share stories about the one who liked puzzles or the gal who liked to dance.

They need to not just be numbers or just an obituary,” Eldridge said. “They were people, and the way you know they’re people is to know how they were in life and what impression they made on those they leave behind.”

As the crowd dispersed, presumably to warm homes, one visitor was caught offering a blanket from her car to a man who was nearly passed out on the sidewalk. He stayed motionless as she placed the blanket over his body and spoke with him.