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Victor Fedchuk died last Saturday in an alley behind a Kum & Go a mile and one-third from my house.
He died in an alley where the convenience store’s employees frequently can be seen having a smoke or talking on their phones while on break. But no one saw Victor that night.
He died in an alley blocks away from the campus of Missouri State University where, according to MSU figures, more than 24,000 students are enrolled. Many of them pass by that alley daily on their way to class or student housing. But no student saw Victor that night.
Victor Fedchuk, whose body was found Saturday in an alley near a downtown convenience store, was described as a ‘beautiful fascinating man’ with a ‘miserably unpleasant’ personality due to pain he experienced daily.
There is a sidewalk that runs along South Kimbrough Avenue and past the alley. The street itself is always busy with traffic. But no pedestrian or driver saw Victor.
Victor died a few blocks south of East Walnut Street, one of the borders of downtown Springfield’s business and commercial district. Hundreds of people descend on downtown Springfield on Saturday nights. But no one saw Victor.
Victor died leaning against the wall of the Center City Christian Outreach Well of Life food pantry which provides sack lunches and groceries to the unhoused.
He died outdoors on a night when the temperature was at least 10 degrees above freezing.
Victor had family in the area, including six or seven children, but he died alone.
Victor did not freeze to death, starve to death or overdose. He most likely died from chronic heart problems. It’s nearly impossible for an unemployed Ukrainian immigrant without a green card to get health care in this country.
Rebekah Lee, a homeless advocate and friend of Victor’s who was among the first to be with his body, wrote on Facebook that she and others were joined by “some very kind [Springfield Police Department] officers…”
I wonder how those “very kind” officers felt in that alley Saturday, waiting with Victor’s friends for the medical examiner. I wonder if they had ever encountered Victor before and how those encounters had gone.
Irrational and rational fears can make us act callously. It can be easier to turn away and ignore the disheveled man or woman asking for money or food at an intersection or on the sidewalk.
Springfield has an acknowledged homeless, houseless, unsheltered, street person, call it what you will, problem. Estimates vary widely but the number that I hear most often is in the neighborhood of 2,500 men, women, and children living without permanent shelter.
Social service agencies, churches, ad hoc groups like Gathering Friends and individuals like Marti Knauer all labor heroically to help.
It’s getting colder and you can help too. Try to keep at least one of these items in your car to give away when you see someone out in the cold: beanies, gloves, socks, hand warmers, $5 gift cards from fast food restaurants. Just one of these can help get someone through the day. Actions as simple as a neighborhood sock drive organized on Facebook can keep someone from losing their toes.
One of singer/songwriter John Prine’s greatest songs concludes with the verse:
So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello”
No one saw Victor. Victor died alone.
Springfield needs to do better. We all need to do better.