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Heart of One-Legged Doug 

by Kevin Taylor & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he mourners were thinning out and shade from stately conifers was covering most of the grassy bowl at High Bridge by the time Patrick, with some collected funds mashed into a pocket, hiked the hillside to reach the mini- mart up on Sunset Boulevard.


Soon enough, he was back with a half-rack of Red Dog.


"I couldn't imagine being down here having a memorial service for my brother without a beer," smiles Paul Fletcher, who had kicked in some of the money.


He handed the cold Red Dogs around the table, calling over friends and family. And as the sun tried to jab through the thick pine needles, the small group sat, solemn as owls, around a picnic table telling quiet stories in the memory of Fletcher's big brother.


Douglas Ray Dawson was just a couple of weeks shy of his 51st birthday when he was set on fire in downtown Spokane last month. The man known to street people as One-Legged Doug died a few days later after being flown to the burn center at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & D & lt;/span & espite the public horror of his death, Dawson's sendoff on Saturday afternoon was a small affair -- drawing some 80 people to the shade-dappled park along the banks of Latah Creek west of downtown. The small turnout could be because, throughout his life, most people looked away from Dawson.


How do you say goodbye to the guy who holds up the cardboard sign begging for money at the off-ramp? The guy you see peeing against a wall from his wheelchair?


Dawson's friends and family did it with a gospel sing-along, some catered barbecue and a parade of testimonials that were both funny and sad. Mostly sad. They did it with honesty about his alcoholism and homelessness. And they did it with the dignity the homeless in America don't seem to get much of.


"My brother's been homeless for 25 years," Nancy St. Pierre says. "He's been beat up and robbed and had is ear almost cut off by kids one time. Lots of bad stuff happens downtown. I was always worried.


"But I never thought he'd be set on fire and murdered."


The mix at the service was a blend of blood kin in nice clothes and street folks with wild hair, weather-beaten skin and well-worn T-shirts. Yet when the preacher called for "I Have a Friend in Jesus," their voices blended. And they hugged and offered condolences over both the harsh way Dawson lived and the awful way he died.


"Everybody needs forgiveness. Doug, too, needs forgiveness," Paul Fletcher says.


Forgive, but don't forget, was the theme sounded by fellow homeless at the gathering.


Lather, an earnest fellow with a cowboy hat and full beard, stepped up for a turn at the microphone. "Because people want to turn their backs on the homeless is why Doug is where he is today."


(Doug's ashes, in fact, were in a crematory urn on the tabletop in front of Lather, taped with sweet childhood photos and surrounded by petals.)


"Homelessness is the problem here. It's not because he was a drunk. It's the sleeping laws that hurt people," Lather continued. "We've been fighting for a tent city for at least seven years. How many people have to die before it happens?"





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & M & lt;/span & any street people, citing a chronic shortage of shelter beds in Spokane -- especially downtown -- are gearing up for another fight with city officials to form a tent city.


"The push right now is to gentrify downtown," says Dave Bilsland, citing the stampede of million-dollar condo projects in old downtown buildings. "In the last five years, we've lost 400 low-income properties downtown."


Can the high-end condo coexist with someone sleeping in a box against the outside wall? Apparently not. The city's public sleeping ban allows police to arrest the homeless or, more typically, roust them from place to place during the night.


A similar ban in Los Angeles was declared "cruel and unusual punishment," and struck down by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in April. The court said homeless people should not be blamed for sleeping on sidewalks if they had no alternative because shelter beds were filled, the Los Angeles Times wrote in early May. The city has appealed.


Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan says, "I see a need for more shelter for homeless people," but doesn't think a tent city is the way to go about it for security and sanitary reasons.


Instead, he says a city-county task force has been stumping the Legislature for House Bill 2163, which would provide additional funding -- including for shelter beds -- for agencies that serve the homeless.





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & ll that's too late for Dawson, of course. Bobby Fletcher, another of Dawson's brothers, said he learned a harsh lesson in being judgmental. He hammered his thoughts down on a couple of sheets of typewritten paper, conceding that Dawson "spent most of his life as an alcoholic and a free-souled man who didn't face up to many responsibilities."


Further, Fletcher wrote that he and perhaps most of Spokane saw Dawson "as another eyesore to their streets" and are too quick to judge, too quick to strip a homeless man of dignity and humanity.


"I am so very sorry I was thoughtless when I could have been more caring," Fletcher writes. "From here on out, I'll try to grace you when the opportunity arises by extending a hand instead of looking the other way."


As the Red Dog was slowly sipped by the solemn group at the picnic table, Paul Fletcher brightened.


"I remember this: Doug had a big old black Schwinn. Bobby would sit up on his shoulders and I would sit up on Bobby's shoulders and we would ride all over Pasco that way."


Yeah, back when there were dreams and people would notice.





A Douglas Ray Dawson Memorial Tent City Fund has been established. Donations can be made at any Washington Mutual branch.
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