“To those we hold in high esteem”: Street Roots vendor Rick Davis remembers those who have been lost on the street

By Kaia Sand, Street Roots

Longtime Street Roots vendor Rick Davis jumps in where he sees a need. He hauled a wagon full of Rose City Resource guides to organizations that needed them, and he cleared the basement of cardboard that he distributed to people who needed to line the bottom of their tent as protection against the cold pavement.

And for the past year, he has been dedicated to bringing dignity to how Street Roots memorializes deceased vendors.

“This is for anyone who has a memorial in this room,” he explains, gesturing around the Street Roots office where memorials are held.

Street Roots vendor Rick Davis working on the memorial wall in the Street Roots office. [Courtesy of Street Roots]

Street Roots has hosted many memorials to reflect on vendors taken from us too soon. This year, like many office spaces impacted by the pandemic, we have been unable to provide that hospitality.

Across the US, communities pause to honour Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day on 21 December, traditionally the longest night of the year. It’s a day to remember people who have passed away while homeless and call for an end to the loss and suffering occurring every day on our streets.

This year marks 30 years since this solemn tradition began. In 2018, the most recent year of tabulated figures, 92 people died homeless in Multnomah County. Video vigils have been planned.

[Courtesy of Street Roots]

Davis has been redesigning and constructing the memorial wall for more than a year now — upgrading efforts that, he teasingly tells Street Roots staff, had resembled to him the most-wanted posters at a post office. He first worked with artist Helen Hill who painted a sky scene that tops the memorial, then he worked with his friend, Nick, to frame and paint the wall, adding 76 slots for photos to slide in, and affixing a lamp atop the memorial. His process has been informed by vendor input. Most recently, Rick solicited ideas for language for a dedication. He merged several ideas to come up with this language: “To those we hold in highest esteem.” He then worked with an artist who, he said, is homeless himself to paint that header board.

This memorial is where Rick himself eventually wants to be memorialized. “People aren’t going to remember me unless my face is up there,” he said.

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