“There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.” — Author David M. Eagleman 

When Jane found the dead man inside the tent Friday afternoon, she wasn’t sure exactly who she was looking at. 

The man was dead, that much was for certain. But around his corpse were very few clues to his identity, if there were any clues at all.

No wallet. No cellphone. No pill bottles or anything that might bear the man’s name. 

She would later learn that the deceased was a 57-year-old homeless man named Dave, whom she knew from the shelters. 

She would also learn that another man had made off with Dave’s phone and wallet after discovering the body a full day earlier. 


It irks her that the dead man was subjected to the final indignity of having his personal items swiped upon his death, but she isn’t surprised. This is the nature of things in the hidden world of the homeless encampments. 

“This is what happens,” says Jane, which is not her real name. “People go out and party and someone overdoses. Everybody cleans up and they just leave the body behind. It’s a normal, everyday thing.” 

When a homeless person dies like this in an encampment, police are eventually notified and the body is hustled to the medical examiner’s office. There is no yellow crime scene tape strung around the site. The tent itself just sits empty until someone else comes along to claim it, and that’s that. Life goes on in the encampment.

If not for a brief news story in the local newspaper and scuttlebutt among the homeless population, few outside of the encampments would know about Dave’s death, or that he had existed at all. 

On Friday, a group of homeless advocates went to the wooded area beneath the Lewiston side of the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge to deliver food to the people who live there. It was only there that they learned about Dave’s quiet demise.

They also learned more about Dave’s final hours and, as is so often the case, the facts are grim. 


Word around the homeless community is that Dave had received a monthly check shortly before he was found dead. It would be his last check and it’s possible that Dave knew this. 

He had been weary and depressed, I’m told, about an illness that required him to go to the hospital each and every day for medicine. In addition, he was facing a major medical procedure in the near future, which left him more weary still. 

Dave, they speculated, wasn’t having it. He had chosen to go out on his own terms, and that included buying up a quantity of his favorite dope and using enough of it to kill him. 

Was it suicide? An accident? 

All unknown for the time being. Police say the case is actively under investigation and that Dave’s body is now in the hands of the state’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner. They will seek the manner of death and wait for the results of a toxicology report. 

In an overloaded system, it may be months before the toxicology report is finalized. And by the time those reports become available, how many will remember the homeless man who died without fanfare in that dense patch of woods not far from the Androscoggin River? 


Homeless folk tend to mourn these kinds of losses in a private way. It stays quiet and confined to the homeless family itself, for the most part. Out there in the world of patched tents and makeshift shelters, the inhabitants talk about Dave as the rest of the world might talk about a local politician or celebrity who died unexpectedly. 

“He was really friendly,” says Jane. “He was funny and helpful and just very likable.” 

“Dave was a great individual,” says Paul R. Bernard, who works daily to feed, shelter and protect the local homeless. “Many enjoyed his friendship.” 

But the mourning period will be brief. For those who have to fret each day about where the next meal is coming or where they will sleep when cold weather returns, mourning is a luxury they can’t afford. 

Dave’s best chance to be remembered now will come from those people who invoke his name while arguing that there are not enough resources for homeless people in the area. And those arguments are already underway.

Bernard, like Jane, is irked by the way homeless deaths are dealt with by the broader world outside. Police investigations sometimes feel hasty and half-hearted, he says, and the homeless dead are treated as though they are nothing more than administrative nuisances.


“They have a name,” Bernard says. “They are someone’s son, daughter, brother, husband, wife. They are just as human as I am.” 

If it looks like an overdose, there is no reason for police to drag out an investigation. And really — who is going to be pushing for one? 

Dave’s passing has not been noted in a newspaper obituary. There will likely be no announcement before his body is silently consigned to the grave once the medical examiner is through with him. 

His phone? Whomever is using it will presumably toss it in the trash once the minutes are up. The wallet, too, is likely headed for the landfill, and with those personal items gone, there are not many earthly signs that the man named Dave was ever here at all. 

He exists now only in the memories of the few who knew him in the scrappy world of the homeless camps. Someday, perhaps soon, Dave’s name will be uttered for the very last time and then he will be no more.

It’s a fate that will doom us all to oblivion sooner or later. 

It’s just that for some, it happens a lot quicker.

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