In late September, a few dozen people gathered at Peoples Park for a memorial for Todd Kirn, who had been homeless in Astoria for the past several years.
After a moment of silence, Vern Hall, Kirn’s friend, read a list of names of others who died homeless.
“That was a rough day for everybody,” Hall said of when they learned of Kirn’s death.
“He never said anything bad about anybody. That’s pretty rare.”
Kirn had been drinking with friends on the night of Sept. 13 when he was hit by a car while crossing Marine Drive in front of McDonald’s.
He was taken to Columbia Memorial Hospital and eventually flown to Portland for treatment of a head injury. He died a few days later, just before his 50th birthday.
Astoria police officer Kenny Hansen had known Kirn for decades and attended his memorial.
“I felt sad because I knew him really well,” he said. “I feel sad when anything happens to our homeless out there. I have this personal connection with them. We’re all friends, and there’s a mutual respect there ... and they understand when I have to take action. There’s hardly or ever a grudge or pushback.”
Kirn was well known to Astoria police as he’s had over 200 contacts with them over the years. However, Hansen said Kirn was always cordial and kind.
“What happened to Todd I think was a result of him being a product of his environment and lifestyle, really,” Hansen said.
“It’s tough living on the streets. And sometimes living on the streets you don’t necessarily think things through before you do something as simple as crossing the street — probably done it a million times ... The one time, that’s all it took.”
Hansen serves as the police department’s homeless liaison. He said he cares for the homeless and he takes a genuine interest in their lives. If he can, he helps people with emotional support and directs them to mental health resources. In his role, he has made many friends within the homeless community.
“I’m a police officer, of course. But I kind of see myself as a parent to some of these people, too,” he said. “Everybody needs someone, I think, and a lot of these people don’t really have anyone.”
Hansen said he has seen homelessness get worse over his 30 years in law enforcement in Clatsop County. He also believes it may get worse before it gets better.
He said it is important for the community to see the homeless as people with friends and families.
”They’ve ended up where they’re at for various reasons,” he said, “but every one of them that does pass has a family somewhere.”
Kirn’s closest companion was Robert Frier. For 46 years, they were friends. Frier has also known Hansen for decades and considers him a friend, as well. “I love the hell out of him,” Frier said of Hansen.
“Todd and Robert were basically inseparable,” Hansen said. “And together they took care of Robert’s dog, ‘Smokey.’”
They lived together off and on over the years and supported each other.
“We pretty much grew up together and we were with each other every day,” Frier said.
Frier said he was devastated to lose his best friend. He was with Kirn the night he was hit and a police officer let him see Kirn before he was flown to Portland. That was the last time he saw him.
“He was so kind-hearted,” Frier said.
“He would give you his sleeping bag ... he loved everyone and we helped everybody out.”
Although it is hard to be homeless sometimes, he said, they were happy and content. ”Yes, we’re alcoholics and we like to smoke the pot, but nothing’s wrong with that,” Frier said.
He remembered how Kirn loved to watch the sunset over the water.
“He was such a good person,” Frier said.