By Tom Henderson • Staff Writer • 

Homeless vet dies, but leaves legacy

Judging from his campsite at the corner of Baker and Cowls streets, he left behind some plastic tarps, a half-eaten bag of breakfast pastries and an unopened box of toothbrushes and dental floss, heavily covered with frost. However, he may have also bequeathed Paul Nelson, the 53-year-old friend who shared his campsite, a fighting chance to be spared a similar fate.

McMahon reportedly sat motionless under his tarps for two days before someone took him to the hospital. That prompted McMinnville resident Corey Herber to launch a crowdfunding campaign, found at, to relocate Nelson and McMahon to warm, dry and permanent shelter.

Starting with a goal of $5,000, the campaign has raised almost $4,000 from 60 different donors over the past week. And Herber said Monday that he and McMahon had an appointment with Judi Herubin, the director of housing services at the Housing Authority of Yamhill County, to discuss housing options.

“I want to get off the streets,” Nelson said. “It’s getting so cold out here.”

Herubin said the Housing Authority is not in the shelter business. “There’s nothing of an immediate nature,” she said.

But she said there’s a possibility that Nelson and his wife — Dawn Eckhart, 57, who is recuperating from a series of strokes at Oakwood Country Place, might be able to apply for Section 8 public housing. That would provide them with a more stable solution to their housing problems.

Herber said the response from the community to the crowdfunding campaign has been phenomenal. “We have definitely shed some light on things,” he said.

Mark Riche, a homeless man who spends many of his nights at McMinnville Cooperative Ministries on Northeast Second Street, said the homeless people who stay at the church are lighting fires in metal barrels at night to keep warm. McMahon’s death is further evidence that McMinnville residents need to do more to address homelessness, he said.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales has declared a state of emergency in his city’s dealings with a growing homeless problem.

That’s a good idea, Riche said. “McMinnville needs to consider its status and declare a state of emergency, like, last week,” he said.

An alliance of churches in McMinnville offer shelter against the cold through a program called Community Winter Inclement Shelter Help, or C-WISH. The Rev. Erika Marskbury of McMinnville’s First Baptist Church said she recently received a memo from C-WISH stating it will be providing cold weather refuge from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church, on Northeast Second Street, Nov. 24 to 26, and First Baptist Church, on Southeast Cowls Street, Nov. 27 to 29.

Shelter will be rotated among the other four participating churches in C-WISH after that. A tentative schedule has been posted on C-WISH’s Facebook page.

However, spokesman Howie Harkema said the schedule ultimately depends on the weather. “We don’t open unless the temperature is below 32 degrees for more than a day,” he said.

C-WISH would not have made a difference when it came McMahon’s fate, Harkema said. “We were above 32 degrees when all of that transpired,” he explained.

Nelson said C-WISH offers hope for only a small percentage of McMinnville’s homeless residents. “Bet you five-to-one they’re full most nights,” he said.

Little is known about McMahon.

Nelson said he was a veteran, he suffered from numerous health problems, and he spoke of a daughter working at a hospital in Portland and a girlfriend working at a hospital across the river in Vancouver. Nelson said he had only one kidney, and had to make arduous bus trips to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Portland on a frequent basis for dialysis.

McMahon also had a probation officer, who apparently submitted obituary information to Macy & Son Funeral Directors.

Knowing his plight drew an outpouring of prayers, sympathy and money from the community.

That might have provided McMahon with some solace in his final moments, Herber said, but he never learned of the crowdfunding campaign. “He was out of it at the end,” his friend explained.

However, whether McMahon knew it or not, Herber said, he left a legacy. “His death was not without meaning,” he said.



A good example of why we need to take care of our homeless rather than spending money on bringing in and supporting refugees.


Do we as a society expect any reciprocal actions from the homeless such as not using tobacco, alcohol or drugs?


Kona makes an interesting point, one not generally mentioned, but absolutely worthy of deliberation nevertheless.

Bob Z

I am disgusted by the heartlessness of the comments here. RainD, who has undoubtedly never done a thing for the homeless, wants to use them as an excuse not to help refugees. kona uses the death of a homeless vet as an excuse to blame them for their homelessness and self-medication - and Lulu hops in to agree.

Thank goodness the article shows that not everyone in our community is like that.


Bob Z, could you just answer my question without guessing at assumptions. I did not "use the death of a homeless vet as an excuse to blame them for their homelessness and self-medication". How did you arrive at that conclusion?


After being panhandled by pushy, aggressive people so frequently on the streets of McMinnville, I supposed my heart is a bit wizened. However, I can't afford to subsidize cigarettes, booze, or fill in the blank for strangers approaching in a menacing way. Tell me, Bob Z, with whom did I agree? I said Kona's point was valid and warranted further discussion. You're the one making specious assumptions.

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