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Well-known disabled Pocatellan dies

October 3, 2018
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Gary Kerness of Pocatello, who became known for living outside to protest what he said was the community's lack of housing for people with disabilities, died Sept. 26.

POCATELLO — A local man who became well known in the community for protesting the plight of area people with disabilities by living for several months at a busy intersection has died.

Gary Kerness, who was confined to a wheelchair, died on Sept. 26 of natural causes at Portneuf Medical Center.

Manning-Wheatley Funeral Chapel has cremated his body. His ashes will stay with the funeral home until a family member claims them. Thus far, no family member has come forward, according to funeral home staff.

Kerness made his stand at the corner of East Benton Street and Fourth Avenue, where he lived for six months, protesting what he considered to be inadequate living conditions in Pocatello for people with disabilities.

He was diabetic and had muscular dystrophy.

Kerness’s saga began with him being evicted from his apartment in March 2016 at the Whitman, following disturbing-the-peace violations.

After being evicted, he went to the Idaho State University campus and camped out for the night.

Kerness refused help from law enforcement officials and citizens, but agreed the next morning to be transported to Bingham Memorial Hospital.

Then in early May, Kerness began to live on the street corner in front of Albertsons.

City officials at the time said Kerness refused all offers to provide him with alternative living conditions.

Kerness said he consistently tried to find housing that could accommodate his power wheelchair but deemed the housing in Pocatello unsafe due to issues such as small doorways and poor accessibility.

To some, Kerness was a vagrant. Others lauded his “inspiring” act of civil disobedience. Once fall came, and the cold began to set in, Kerness went to live in a room near Hawthorne Road with Nichole Lindstrom, who filled the role of his caregiver.

Amanda Hoffman, a friend of Kerness, said he had a great effect on her life.

“He’s a mentor to me, and he taught me a lot about life,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said Kerness was fun to banter with, and he was smart and stubborn.

Hoffman said she and Kerness often debated one another, and he helped her broaden her perspective.

“We was a good guy. He had a really good heart,” Hoffman said. “He had a lot of determination and things he was passionate about.”

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