When Christy James-Beck and her family learned of her brother-in-law’s death this past February, they were distraught, she said.
Jon Beck, 40, struggled with addiction and was a member of Roseburg’s homeless community for at least eight years before his death, James-Beck said.
“He was really smart, he went to Wyoming (Technical Institute) for a while, you know, something we all wished he would have followed through. He was a good mechanic,” James-Beck said. “He was kind, he would have done anything for you.”
She said the sadness came after years of worrying that such a call from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office might come.
The day of Jon’s death, James-Beck had barely started to grieve before becoming outraged at a Facebook post by Roseburg City Councilor Ashley Hicks. Hicks is outspoken about homelessness issues. She frequently characterizes the city’s unsheltered people as undeserving of services.
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When James-Beck confronted Hicks about the offensive post on Facebook, an argument in which Hicks blamed James-Beck’s family for Jon’s homelessness followed. James-Beck said Hicks’ comments show she lacks the compassion to be in a leadership position at the city making policies directed at homeless people.
In an interview, Hicks said she stands by her statements that James-Beck’s family is partially to blame for allowing him to stay homeless for so many years.
She organizes cleanups in Roseburg’s public parks and other natural areas that are often campsites for unsheltered people, and she posts on Facebook about the cleanups.
“This morning one of the chronic campers was found dead,” read part of a Facebook post following a cleanup by the South Umpqua River the day Jon was found dead.
The post included a description of what Jon looked like when he was found. James-Beck said it was difficult to read.
“I’m thinking it is 3 o’clock in the afternoon, we found out at 10 o’clock this morning,” she said. “If my husband got on here and saw this, he would absolutely melt down. I mean, there’s no way that his kids needed to get on there and go to their dad’s Facebook page and have that be the first thing that popped up. Nobody needed to know how he was found dead. We still didn’t, the sheriff still hadn’t even told us.”
James-Beck responded to Hicks on Facebook after getting approval from other family members.
“Ashley Hicks thank you so much for such a very vivid detail of how my husbands brother was found dead, probably something he and his family could have lived today without having to read, the great detail of how he looked at death has nothing to do with your clean up day, please have consideration for his family,” James-Beck wrote.
Hicks responded by saying James-Beck should have seen the conditions in which Jon lived. James-Beck said she and her family have known his living conditions for a long time.
Jon’s family was continuously in contact with him during his homelessness, James-Beck said. She and her husband would occasionally talk to him when they saw him in town. They couldn’t have him stay in their house after his addiction posed a risk to their kids.
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Jon went home to his parents’ house in the Tri-Cities, Washington, area for three weeks every year over Christmas. He was clean when he went home, James-Beck said, and he hoped it would persist.
“He generally called his mom at least once a week,” James-Beck said. “She bought him multiple phones. If she couldn’t get a hold of him she had someone that would go down there, and then he would call.”
After several more exchanges in which Hicks continued to challenge James-Beck’s awareness of Jon’s living situation, Hicks said, “You knew where he was — his death is yours to deal with. Nothing along the riverbanks changes after his passing. Not many were even sad about it — you can think on that tonight too. I knew him. I just spoke with him last weekend. When was the last time you some with him? You’re wasting your time here.”
Meanwhile, several people on Facebook came to James-Beck’s defense, denouncing Hicks’ statements as hurtful. Hicks got more defensive throughout the discussion, continuing to blame Jon’s family for his homelessness.
“The shame is on his family for allowing a beloved to live in that condition — I welcome you to come down tomorrow to where he died today and take it in,” Hicks replied to one person who criticized her.
James-Beck said Jon’s parents considered writing a letter to the City of Roseburg to bring city officials’ attention to Hicks’ actions.
“I don’t understand why an official could ever on public social media be able to speak to anybody or on the death of anybody before people are even barely notified,” James-Beck said.
City councilors have discussed creating a social media policy following posts about separate issues on Facebook by Hicks, according to email records.
James-Beck said it was unfair of Hicks to assume that her family hadn’t tried to get Jon help with his addiction.
She said he went through at least three different rehab treatments, and his parents played crucial roles in facilitating those efforts. They would drive more than six hours from Tri-Cities to pick him up and take him to treatment centers in Portland.
She isn’t sure why Jon’s periods of sobriety were never permanent because she knows there were times when he seemed committed to it.
“Everything needs to be connected,” she said. “You need to have more treatment centers that connect to mental health facilities that connect with housing. If you don’t have all three of those that connect ... you’re going to fall right back into where you were.”
James-Beck was also offended by Hicks’ suggestion that Jon’s family didn’t care enough about him. Jon meant a lot to James-Beck, she said. He introduced her and her husband. They worked at a restaurant together before Jon’s addiction took hold.
“Never a perfect person, nobody is,” she said. “But losing a child is losing a child, and it’s still losing a brother.”