For residents and staff at Interfaith Sanctuary, losing someone who stayed there is always hard. But losing a community leader like Debi Davis to COVID-19 — as cases surge across the Treasure Valley — can hurt even worse.
Interfaith, one of the area’s largest shelters and providers of homeless services, has had a stressful pandemic trying to keep residents sheltered and safe during a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 2,600 Idahoans.
For the most part, the shelter has been successful. But Davis became sick in mid-August and was dead in a matter of days.
In her several months as a resident, Davis left an impact on those she met with her positive attitude and comforting demeanor, according to those at Interfaith. Everybody had a Debi story, executive director Jodi Peterson-Stigers said, and all who knew her felt her kindness.
That impact was felt when people gathered Thursday afternoon for a memorial for Davis. Clad in orange shirts (her favorite color), they shared stories of their friend.
For Kevin Bullard, a resident at the shelter, Davis’ kindness helped in his recovery from a drug addiction, keeping him in the program when things got tough.
“I stayed in recovery because of her,” Bullard said.
Nicki Vogel, Interfaith’s project wellbeing supervisor, said Davis would bring new people to the group and help out those who were struggling.
“She was like the mom of the group,” Vogel said. “I knew Debbie would be like the perfect person that makes somebody feel comfortable.”
Residents also painted rocks in her memory. Sherri, a resident who declined to give her last name, painted a picture of an angel hovering over Earth. She said Davis helped her adjust to life inside a shelter.
“She was always the person that was there for everybody,” Sherri said. “She was constantly going and checking on people and making sure everybody was OK.”
Melanie Madrill and Davis had a particularly close bond. Madrill was released from prison in May, and Davis helped get her into the shelter’s drug recovery program. Davis, she said, was more like a mother than a best friend.
“She took me by the hand and she just walked me through life,” Madrill said. “It was like that lifeline that you needed to survive.”
‘She got really bad fast’
Davis had been nervous about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, some people said. Madrill said they had been “hearing stories” about the vaccines and kept delaying getting the shot.
On the day she was ready to get her first dose, Davis began to display symptoms of COVID-19, Peterson-Stigers said. She spent a few days in the hospital before succumbing to the disease.
“It went fast — she got really bad fast,” Sherri said.
Davis’ role in the community as someone people confided in and leaned on for support made her death especially troubling in an unsettling time, Vogel said.
Madrill said she still feels guilty over the death of her friend. A couple of days before Davis got sick, they had logged on to set up a vaccination appointment, but ended up not doing it.
Madrill said she still wonders what would have happened if she had insisted that they get tested that day.
She said that if she saw Davis again, she’d say: “I thought the world of her and I love her and let’s go get that shot.”
A way to help others
In many ways, Davis’ death could be a sign of things to come. COVID-19 hospitalizations have surged statewide, to nearly 700 Idahoans total, and hospitals are now allowed to ration care to the patients most likely to survive if needed.
Boise’s unhoused population is seeing increased cases as well. As of Friday, 25 in the homeless community were quarantined inside Boise hotel rooms after testing positive for COVID-19, triple the number of just a few days before. When the shelter tested 170 people, 14 were positive, officials said — a rate of 8%.
But Interfaith leaders are hoping Davis’ death can be used as an opportunity to educate others on the importance of getting vaccinated. Interfaith will be hosting a vaccine clinic in her honor on Tuesday.
Peterson-Stigers made the need clear as she talked to residents during the memorial, and said many had already decided to get the shot in the days after Davis died. Residents and staff said it’s a scary time at the shelter and that many are doing all they can to stay safe.
“We don’t want to lose anyone else,” Peterson-Stigers said to the crowd. “Debi’s death needs to matter because she saved lives.”
When she asked one resident whether he got the vaccine, he nodded, his eyes welling with tears: “Yes.”