Homeless deaths increased 23% in Multnomah County last year
The number of homeless people who died in Multnomah County jumped 23% in 2019 — increasing to 113 from 92 the year before.
The increase is documented in the new Domicile Unknown report released by Multnomah County and the Street Roots homeless advocacy organization Monday, Dec. 21. The number of deaths last year is the highest since the annual report was first published in 2012.
"Domicile Unknown brings to light the harsh realities and immense risks that our neighbors endure when they are forced to live outside without a stable home. From the report, we learn how many people died while experiencing homelessness, and also how and when and where they passed away," Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said in the introduction to the report.
The report notes the increase occurred the year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, when the region's economy was booming. More people are believed to be living on the streets now, although no official recent count has been taken. The last count was conducted in early 2019, the same year as the deaths documented in the new report. It found that while the number of homeless people had increased 22% over the previous count in 2017, the number of people categorized as "chronically homeless" rose about 37%.
"We release this report 10 months into a pandemic that has stricken people across the world, but the deaths counted here preceded the pandemic. These yearly Domicile Unknown reports have informed the sense of urgency to the peril unhoused people face in this pandemic — why we at once have to fight for each housing unit in the long term and each motel room and insulated pod and hygiene support in the short term," Street Roots Executive Director Kaia Sand said in the introduction.
The report is based on deaths investigated by the Multnomah County medical examiner. It found that drugs or alcohol caused, or contributed to, about half of the deaths in 2019. According to the report, methamphetamines were a leading cause and contributor of deaths associated with drugs or alcohol, followed by opioids. The combination of methamphetamine and opioids occurred in a quarter of cases where drugs or alcohol caused or contributed to death.
Nearly half of those who died, 53 people, were found in outdoor public spaces that included sidewalks, parks and homeless encampments, the report said. Another 10 people were discovered in outdoor spaces that were privately owned, such as parking lots. Hypothermia caused or contributed to the death of four people.
Among those who died in 2019, a third died of natural causes, some caused by complications from drug and alcohol abuse, and others who died from chronic disease including heart disease or stroke, uncontrolled diabetes or untreated pneumonia.
Another 10 people died in traumatic accidents including inhaling smoke from a fire or being hit by a car, truck or train.
Since the Multnomah County Health Department and medical examiner first began tracking deaths among people who were homeless in 2011, at least 643 people have died. The new report said that in 2018, 92 people died, preceded by 79 in 2017, 80 in 2016, 88 in 2015, 56 in 2014, 32 in 2013, 56 in 2012, and 47 in 2011.
The report can be found here.
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