Homeless deaths hit record high
Ninety-two homeless people died in Multnomah County last year, the highest number since the Health Department started keeping track in 2011.
The number was 16% higher than the 79 who died in 2017, according to the 2018 Domicile Unknown report released by the county and the nonprofit Street Roots advocacy organization on Wednesday, Oct. 16.
"Many people without shelter have a disabling medical, mental and substance use issue that contributes to their situation and makes it difficult to deal with when they are just trying to survive," Multnomah Chair Deborah Kafoury said of the findings. "There is no health condition that homelessness won't make worse, and no condition that safe and stable housing won't help treat."
According to the report, those who died ranged in age from 22 to 77. Among the findings:
• Drugs or alcohol caused or contributed to more than half of the deaths in 2018.
• Methamphetamines were a leading cause and contributor to deaths associated with drugs or alcohol, contributing to 29% of all deaths.
• Thirteen people were found deceased in a car, RV or camper in which they were living.
• Ten people died in homicides, more than twice the four who were murdered in 2018. Guns were used in six of those killings.
• Hypothermia caused or contributed to the deaths of two people.
"It's been a fairly steady drumbeat of preventable deaths among young and midlife people. In a way, it's the monotonous nature that's important," said Tri-County Health Officer Dr. Paul Lewis. "This allows us to refocus our energy. It shows that many of these deaths are preventable, but prevention is hard to implement if people are unhoused."
The deaths increased despite the tens of millions of additional dollars being spent by the county and Portland to serve the homeless. A federally-mandated survey found that the number of unsheltered homeless in the county also increased this year, jumping 22% to 2,869 on a single day in January.
Since the Multnomah County Health Department and Medical Examiner began tracking deaths among people who were homeless in 2011, at least 530 people have died. In 2017, 79 people died, preceded by 80 in 2016; 88 in 2015; 56 in 2014; 32 in 2013; 56 in 2012; and 47 in 2011.
According to the report, 76% of individuals who died were male with an average age of 48 years. The 22 females who died had an average age of 44 years. Although race was not established in all cases, the majority of decedents were classified as White (73, 83%), followed by Black/African American (10, 11%). Other racial categories accounted for fewer than three deaths each. Racial information was missing for four of the deaths.
The report also said the actual number of homeless deaths is almost certainly higher since the report only includes those who died in hospitals.
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