For advocates for the homeless, it’s the worst thing they could imagine.
On Tuesday morning in Bend, their fears became reality.
A homeless man died overnight outside a Rite Aid on SE Third Street, the frigid air and high winds an apparent factor.
At the time, David Melvin Savory, 57, was on the waitlists of several homeless shelters in the area. But Bend is currently without a cold-weather shelter, which could have saved Savory’s life. And with winter approaching, local homeless service providers worry it may not be the last death this year.
Melody Horner, 27, and her sister met Savory last weekend outside Rite Aid. He didn’t try talking to them, but he was hard to not notice: A double leg amputee in a wheelchair, his hands red from exposure, bloodstains on his pants.
Horner remembers how cold it was, and how alone Savory seemed.
“It just broke my heart,” Horner said. “I could see that he was struggling.”
Horner’s sister bought Savory two blankets. He thanked them through chattering teeth.
After Horner returned to her children and her warm house, she guiltily considered what more she could do for Savory.
“I hated the idea of no one fighting for him,” she said. “I just felt like it was my responsibility to do something and say something for him.”
She started a GoFundMe page to buy clothes and other items for Savory.
Friends soon connected Horner with others who work with the homeless, but finding a solution wasn’t easy.
“It was just baffling trying to find shelter for someone who has nowhere else to go,” she said.
She called local homeless shelters but learned they’re either full or have an application process that takes weeks. She called motels, but they wouldn’t take Savory because he didn’t have a valid ID, even if Horner paid for his stay.
As of the weekend, Horner and several others were working on a plan for long-term services for Savory.
Early Tuesday, heavy winds of up to 20 mph passed through Bend, according to the National Weather Service. A Weather Underground station near the Rite Aid recorded a temperature of 33 degrees about 4:08 a.m., when Savory was found.
A sanitation worker called 911 to report finding a man slumped over in front of a dumpster beside Rite Aid, apparently dead. He had no legs and his wheelchair was nearby.
A funeral home was called in lieu of paramedics.
“It was an obvious death,” said Bend Police Lt. Juli McConkey.
Legal records show Savory lived in California before moving to Oregon. He was married at one point. He left a trail of low-level arrests around the state, most for trespassing and theft. His latest arrest came in 2019 for stealing $100 worth of groceries from Walmart.
He lost his legs near the beginning of the year.
“He told me that this wasn’t his plan,” Horner said. “He told me there were things that he’d done in the past, but I feel like no human being deserves to be alone and hungry.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has noticeably increased homelessness in Bend through economic hardships and new social distancing restrictions at shelters, according to Dave Notari, development director of the Shepherd’s House in Bend.
“It’s definitely had an impact, but it’s hard to say exactly how,” Notari said.
Savory’s death underscores a huge gap in services in Central Oregon, according to Stacey Witte, head of homeless aid organization REACH. So-called high-barrier shelters like Bethlehem Inn, which operate close to capacity year-round, have more rigid rules and don’t accept people who are intoxicated, she said. Low-barrier shelters tend to provide fewer services but take basically everyone, even if they’re still using drugs or alcohol.
“The goal of low-barrier shelters is basically to keep people alive while social service agencies come in and build relationships and start creating plans for people,” Witte said. “Here in Bend we don’t have anything that’s low-barrier, and that’s where the greatest need is.”
Not only does the city lack a year-round low-barrier shelter, it also is without a permanent warming shelter.
Finding a suitable warming shelter location is a scramble each year, and this year was no different, The Bulletin recently reported. A new space was secured only two weeks ago at the former thrift store location next to the Bi-Mart on Second Street.
People in the community often complain that they don’t want a shelter in their backyard, Witte said.
“My opinion is that the less shelters we have, the more we push people literally into people’s backyards,” she said.
The thrift store space is still being renovated to accommodate an expected 50 to 70 occupants per night. Shepherd’s House hopes to have it operating by the end of the month or early December.
Low-barrier shelters also provide homeless people with food, toiletries and a place to use the bathroom. These are more difficult for disabled homeless people to acquire, especially during the pandemic, Witte said.
It’s not known if Savory would have slept at the warming shelter had it been operating. But it would have been an option for him.
“I meet with hundreds of people unhoused in our community, and one of their greatest fears is that they will die alone on the street or in the woods and no one will find them and no one will notice,” Witte said.
Elise Decker, 66, lives across the street from the Rite Aid and occasionally talks to homeless people who stay around the alley behind Vince Genna Stadium. She spoke to Savory several times and showed him kindness on the night he died.
He was highly intoxicated and seemingly in a good mood, she said. They talked at length about his life.
She brought him pillows and a sleeping pad and offered him dinner.
“He clearly needed to eat, and I was hoping it would help,” she said. “He was down and out, and I knew he had a problem, but he still needed someone to care about him.”
Decker brought him a bowl of homemade turkey soup, bread and butter.
“He told me he loved me, because of the soup, and he gave me a hug,” Decker said.
She returned later to check on him and found him passed out with the bread she’d given him spread around the ground. She wrapped it up and placed it nearby. She thought he was sleeping.