A woman was found dead Monday afternoon in a walled dumpster storage area where friends said she was living.

Rachel Berger, 40, was discovered near 6902 N.E. Zac Lentz Parkway about 3:40 p.m. Monday, police said. Friends and acquaintances of Berger said the woman had been periodically living in the concrete enclosure behind the now-shuttered Mercer Emergency Center near Home Depot in north Victoria.

Police declined to release further details, including whether foul play is suspected in the woman’s death.

Whether Berger was the victim of crime or illness, Lisa Griffin, Victoria Area Homeless Coalition president, the public often overlook the vulnerability of the homeless.

“There needs to be an acknowledgment that there are some people – by their own fault or without any fault of their own – who are not able to provide for themselves,” said Griffin.

Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace John Miller said he has scheduled an autopsy for Berger through Central Texas Autopsy in Lockhart for 9:45 a.m. Wednesday. Preliminary results could come as early as Thursday evening, but more detailed analysis, such as toxicology, could take months, he said.

“They had been living in a lot of places here – behind Lowe’s, in trees, at Wal-Mart,” said Victoria resident Catherine Gaytan, 52, an acquaintance of Berger’s.

Inside the concrete enclosure, discarded clothes, shoes and bedding littered the concrete ground. Although a bloodstain was visible in one corner, Miller said he did not, at the moment, think Berger’s death was the result of foul play.

“I think she was ill, and she succumbed to her illness,” he said, adding bottles of medication lying near Berger belonged to her.

The cold and a lack of decent sleep can exacerbate an illness that might be easily overcome by a person with a permanent home and support network, Griffin said.

“It’s impossible to have a good night’s sleep when you are sleeping on hard concrete,” she said. “Night after night of not getting good rest is going to affect your health overall.”

Although Mid-Coast Family Services, the city’s sole emergency shelter, provides a place to stay for those in dire need, it prioritizes aid to abuse victims.

As a result, some people who are homeless are left to fend for themselves night after cold night, Griffin said.

“They don’t have a choice,” she said.

According to the National Weather Service, temperatures plummeted into the 50s with the approach of a cold front Monday morning.

After police had departed, friends of Berger’s descended on the parking lot to pay their respects.

“You had a heart of gold,” said Victoria resident Isaac Ortiz, 21, who added he, too, does not have a permanent place to live.

Shrinking from a bitterly cold wind, Ortiz and others recalled Berger’s generosity, which she regularly displayed despite being homeless herself.

“She’s in a better place,” Gaytan said. “She’s not out in the cold.”

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Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached jwilcox@vicad.com or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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