Eugene Winters was a friend to anyone in need, according to those who remember him.
Before his death, he participated in the Frequent User Service Engagement (FUSE) outreach program with Laurel Hill Center to address his mental health and drug issues and was awaiting admittance into Homes For Good’s supportive housing The Commons on MLK.
Winters was born in Henderson, Nevada, but lived most of his life in Lane County, according to an interview he did with Laurel Hill Center in 2019. Winters lost both of his parents at an early age, but he lived his life with their advice to make the best out of everything, he said in an interview for a story in the nonprofit’s annual report.
St. Vincent de Paul’s (SVdP) Emergency Services Director Roxann O’Brien remembers that Winters always had a smile on his face and that he was grateful. When she was videotaping the opening of the Dusk to Dawn program at Highway 99, she says she interviewed Winters, who expressed how happy he was to be able to stay somewhere out of the cold.
Growing up, Winters worked on farms and joined the Job Corps, a federal program that provides education and vocational training for men and women ages 16 to 24. He loved working on trails, he told Laurel Hill.
Kayla Pollard, an employee at SVdP, says Winters was delightful and thought everyone was his friend, often saying, “I love you, friends.” He would make gifts for people, such as bracelets. And he would make a square with his fingers to take a mental photo of people “because you had changed his life, and it was for his internal database,” she says.
Before enrolling in FUSE in 2019, Winters had been homeless off and on for years and had not seen a primary care physician or have any consistent treatment for his behavioral health needs, according to Laurel Hill’s 2019 annual report. FUSE is a partnership between Lane County government and ShelterCare that helps find stable housing for those who are chronically homeless and are frequent users of resources such as emergency rooms and jail.
Winters struggled with drugs and his mental health and had gone through most of the local social service programs, O’Brien says.
Despite his struggles, he always had a positive outlook on life, according to Laurel Hill staff who worked with Winters. They say he would always ask, “Hello, how are you and your beautiful family?” and would end by saying, “Thank you, beautiful family!” Winters was awarded the 2019 Inspiration award by the FUSE Street Outreach team.
Winters moved into housing thanks to FUSE but lost it months before his death after violating the lease agreement, according to court documents. He was staying at a motel and was within a week of being admitted to The Commons on MLK, where O’Brien says he would’ve received the mental health treatment he needed.
On April 2, he was found dead in the Willamette River near Skinner Butte Park. He was 59.
“He was a ray of sunshine. He was the best,” Pollard says.
Eugene Weekly seeks to run an obituary for every person who dies homeless in Lane County in 2021. This is the sixth we’ve published so far. If you know of someone who has died here while homeless this year, please let us know at Editor@EugeneWeekly.com.