Boise & Garden City

‘It’s like a close family’: At vigil, homeless community mourns deaths of 4 in 1 week

Four friends remembered at homeless shelter vigil

Friends and staff at Corpus Christi House in Boise remember the lives of four friends, associated with the homeless shelter, that died in the past week.
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Friends and staff at Corpus Christi House in Boise remember the lives of four friends, associated with the homeless shelter, that died in the past week.

The deaths of four people connected to the Boise homeless community prompted a vigil at the Corpus Christi House on Tuesday evening, and a crowd of nearly 50, many of them residents of local shelters, gathered to remember those they consider family.

“It hurts. It’s like, we’re all together and it’s like a close family after you know everybody,” said Marti Cicco, who has been bouncing between shelters since January. “Being homeless is not safe, and it tears people apart.”

The deaths, which all occurred within a week’s time, are not believed to be connected, and no foul play is suspected, officials have said.

At Tuesday’s memorial, several individuals spoke to honor their friends. White roses were placed next to a mosaic mural, and “Amazing Grace” was performed. Several of the speakers became emotional addressing the crowd.

“When we experience a loss, it brings up for us all those losses of our past, and it sort of makes us come in contact with those hurts and losses,” Corpus Christi mission coordinator Marc Schlegel said.

The Ada County Coroner’s Office has confirmed the names of all four individuals, who range widely in age.

On Tuesday, June 25, Rose Jarvis, 61, was found dead near 14th Street and Grand Avenue. Boise Police Department bike patrol officers found her on the ground; she’d been dead for an unknown amount of time.

On Friday, Nicholas Olsen, 21, was found dead between 13th and 15th streets near the I-184 Connector.

On Sunday, Christopher Weedman, 59, was found dead just after 10 a.m. in an alley near Corpus Christi House, at 525 S Americana Blvd., according to the coroner’s office.

And on Monday, Nathaniel Gaver, 31, was found dead around 5:51 a.m. at the Boise Rescue Mission on 13th Street.

The coroner’s office is awaiting toxicology results from the autopsies of all four individuals.

The deaths come within a month of the city of Boise announcing that it would begin the process of asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal in Martin v. Boise, also known as the “homeless camping” case.

Mayor David Bieter said in a June news release that the city was bringing forth the case because it “must have tools to respond to the public health and safety dilemmas created by encampments.”

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September 2018 that cities can’t prosecute people for sleeping on the streets if they have nowhere else to go, because it is unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment. The appeals court then said in April that it would not reconsider the ruling.

The camping ordinance was originally adopted in 1922 and prohibits “the use of public property as a temporary or permanent place of dwelling, lodging or residence, or as a living accommodation at any time between sunset and sunrise, or as a sojourn.”

City spokesman Mike Journee said the news of the deaths demonstrates that people experiencing homelessness “really are the most vulnerable Boiseans” and that “we need to do everything we can in order to keep them safe” and provide necessary services.

“That is exactly why the city of Boise is appealing,” Journee said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Without a tool like the camping ordinance, we are certain to see more people die. In a city like Boise, that is just unacceptable and horrifying. ... We have to have a tool to address those public health and safety conditions that happen where these people are staying.”

For the time being, the city’s policy is to suspend ticketing for camping when local homeless shelters don’t have room. A total of 30 citations for camping were written in Boise in 2018, up from six in 2017. Journee said in June that no one had received a ticket for camping in 2019. He did not have an updated number Tuesday.

Donna Mussell, who said she has been homeless three different times, has been at Corpus Christi since October 2018. She was good friends with Weedman, whom she remembered for his constant kindness, warmth and ever-present smile.

One thing people might not realize, Mussell and Cicco said, is how close members of the homeless community are.

“When I got on the inside, I saw a beautiful thing in the midst of ugly, in the midst of sorrow,” Mussell said. “There was love oozing out of those wounds.”

Cicco wore a suit to the vigil. He said it was the first time he had taken it out of its packaging from inside his storage unit. But he plans to donate it to Corpus Christi or another shelter in the coming days. He doesn’t want to wear it again, he said, because it reminds him of loss.

“It’ll bring back too many memories of the people I cared about,” Cicco said.

Following the service, Mussell shared a poem with the Statesman by an anonymous author titled “Faceless.” It details the struggles of homelessness, specifically of going through life with the “homeless” label.

The four victims who died were capable of emotion and love as much as anyone with a permanent residence, Mussell said.

“We’re broken,” she said. “But it doesn’t mean we can’t have love flow through us.”

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Reporter Ruth Brown covers the criminal justice and correctional systems in Idaho. She focuses on breaking news, public safety and social justice. Prior to coming to the Idaho Statesman, she was a reporter at the Idaho Press-Tribune, the Bakersfield Californian and the Idaho Falls Post Register.