Remembering Doug, a “homeless” man who made Hillsdale his home

Doug Baxter lived under the Bertha viaduct for four years.

Life and Death under Capitol Highway

Homeless man was helped by Hillsdale neighbors

Doug Baxter, a “homeless” man who made a home under the Bertha viaduct, was discovered dead on Monday, Dec. 13. His body was beneath a pile of blankets in the shallow depression that served as his bed.

He is believed to have died of pneumonia.

Purnima Prasad, who works in an office next to the bridge, said Baxter had probably been dead at least a week. Neighbors who had come to know him over his two decades in Hillsdale, continued to leave money and food on top of the blanket pile, thinking that he was simply asleep.

Friends have left tributes.

Now they are leaving written tributes and flowers to the friendly man they knew simply as “Doug.”

A black feral cat, who snarled at everyone, made an exception for Doug. The two became friends. Next to where Doug’s body was found, the cat left “gifts” of dead mice and a mauled rat.

Michael Bissell said cat and man seemed to treat each other as a “sort of feral companions.”

Bissell, who employs Prasad as a designer, was Doug’s nearest neighbor and had known Doug for the four years he lived under the bridge. Bissell is the president of a small web site development firm, Conquent. He and Prasad work out of a squat bungalow next to the old bridge.

“Doug drank a lot so he couldn’t go to a shelter. He was really harmless but he didn’t make sense all of the time,” said Bissell.

“He seemed to be happy under the bridge. He was so far from our day-to-day world it was hard to know what he wanted.”

Still, Doug was always appreciative of help. People would drop off cans for him to recycle. A few acquaintances brought money or contributed to an account for him at the nearby Caffe Autogrill coffee shop. One couple left two jackets for him early this winter. Later, in the cold, they saw him wearing both jackets at once to fight off the chill.

Doug had lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, said Bissell. Before settling in under the bridge, he lived in a hole in the Frisbee field next to the Greater Portland Bible Church. When the church bought the land, Doug was forced to leave, said Bissell.

Living under the bridge, Doug would also be “evicted” now and then by the police, but would later return.

Bissell estimated that Doug was in his mid-40s and survived by on the generosity of neighbors and by recycling bottles and cans at the Burlingame Fred Meyer, where he was something of a fixture.

Bissell has written movingly about Doug, before and after Doug’s death.  You can read his thoughts about Doug in two blog posts. One is about Doug’s life; the other is about his death. A copy of Bissell’s memorial tribute, now posted on the bridge (see photos), is found in the second blog.

Originally posted in the Hillsdale News.

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