When mourners gather this December at the annual Homeless Persons Memorial Service at Albany City Hall, the first name from 2018 will be Robert Gieffels.
The 38-year-old Albany man died Wednesday. His body was found just before 10 a.m. under the Pacific Boulevard overpass.
The cause of death is not yet known, although it's not considered suspicious, said Capt. Brad Liles of the Albany Police Department. His family members have been notified.
The death is a source of sadness and frustration for Liles, both because he knew Gieffels and because he and other city officials tried on several occasions to get him the help they felt he needed.
Liles said the police department has had repeated contact with Gieffels, citing him for drinking alcohol in public, trespassing in parks and camping underneath the overpass and other places outdoors. He was often seen under the Pacific overpass, holding up cardboard signs asking for help.
"In the last year he went into custody several times at the Linn County Jail for multiple months," Liles said. "He would come out of jail and he looked great. When Robert was sober, he was awful nice to talk to, friendly and personable. When he was drinking, it was just different."
Each time Gieffels came out, Liles said, he would go right back to drinking.
Liles said he had talked with Gieffels about getting him established with Linn County Drug & Alcohol or possibly reconnecting with his family.
"He adamantly refused any services from those sources. He was very clear to us that drinking was his lifestyle," Liles said. "He had really chosen that lifestyle."
Both Liles and Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa said they remain frustrated by people who choose to give money to people with addictions, which can end up driving the habits that hurt their health.
Konopa in particular has long advocated for donating instead to homeless shelters, soup kitchens and other agencies that help people re-establish themselves in society.
"Giving money to panhandlers is actually harming them," she said. "You're allowing them to continue with their substance abuse."
Liles said he urges people who want to donate to think in terms of what people might need to live on the street, if that's the life they prefer.
"If you want to give someone something beneficial and you have a spare jacket when you drive back by, donate a jacket to him. Donate some nice wool socks to him. Give him some food," Liles said.
Make sure you pull over first and don't just hand it out a car window, which is prohibited, he added.
"Pull over. Get out. Go say hi," he said. "But just providing money doesn’t always go to where they think it might go."