Advocates say homeless woman's death proves greater need for public shelter

EUGENE, Ore. – Tuesday night, a well-known homeless woman died on the steps of White Bird Clinic in Eugene. Now, her death is sparking conversation about how it could have been prevented.

Longtime advocates of the homeless community, peers on the streets and Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis say 58-year-old Carrie Miller’s death is a wake-up call.

“They're our citizens. Here in Lane County, we treat our lost dogs and cats better,” said David Strahan, a homeless advocate in the community.

Strahan said Miller’s death is a recent example of a deeply rooted problem in Lane County. He said there is a lack of shelter for the homeless. If there wasn’t, she might still be alive.

“When she was in a community environment, she did amazing. She wasn't drinking as much. She was writing some amazingly eloquent poetry. She was a wonderfully intelligent and talented person to talk to,” he said.

Strahan said Miller lived unhoused in Eugene for nearly 20 years. She was well-known and well-loved.

“She was sweet, very kind hearted, had a good soul,” said Justin Anderson, a friend of Miller.

Anderson called her a “street mom” – always making sure he and others had blankets to keep warm.

“We felt like we failed her because so many of us have tried for so long to get minimum shelter, a public shelter. In a city of this size, it's ridiculous that the city doesn't house its lowest income citizens,” Strahan said.

Newly-elected Mayor Vinis doesn’t disagree.

“I have joined my voice to the voices of many others in calling for an emergency shelter,” she said.

But a public shelter doesn’t come without challenges – figuring out the space, the management, and the cost.

“I think that Carrie Miller's death is a signal to us that this kind of action may be necessary,” Vinis said.

The city recently rolled out “Operation 600.” The goal is to add 600 low-income units in 5 years.

Vinis said they’ve already named two building sites.

“The reality is, we have more people living on our streets and living in shared spaces than we have services to provide,” she said.

“Carrie is the poster child for ‘shelter first,’ taking people in regardless of their addictions and afflictions. Getting them basic housing and then working on their problems,” Strahan said.

The community is invited to a memorial service for Miller. It’s set for Wednesday, January 18 at noon at Central Presbyterian Church in Eugene.

RELATED | Mayor Piercy races against the clock, pushes for a public homeless shelter

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