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Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees Portland Fire & Rescue, speaks out following the death of a homeless person from a tent fire.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Visible outdoor camping like these downtown tents has increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemicCommissioner Jo Ann Hardesty called for more outdoor camping alternatives following the death homeless person in a tent fire on Tuesday.

Portland firefighters responded to a fire under an overpass at North Vancouver Avenue and Columbia Boulevard just after 7 a.m. on Feb. 9. When they arrived, the firefighters discovered a 27-year-old had managed to get out of tent that was on fire. The person had severe burns over his or her entire body. Firefighter paramedics carried the person to an ambulance gurney from American Medical Response and together they performed advanced life support measures. The patient was transported to Emanuel Hospital Burn Center and later died from the burn injuries just after 11 a.m.

According to Portland Fire & Rescue, investigators believe the fire may have started by an improvised, propane-fed heating device that ignited materials used to insulate the space from the cold temperatures.

"I am heartbroken to learn that a community member experiencing houselessness has died while trying to tend to their most basic needs of shelter and warmth." said Hardesty, who oversees the fire bureau. "This is precisely why we need to urgently move forward with sanctioned camping, tiny home villages, safe RV parking, and other forms of low-barrier, transitional housing that provides a higher degree of safety and stability for those currently sleeping on our streets. Moving these projects forward will make Portland safer for everyone. We can and must do better."

The city of Portland, Multnomah County and the Joint Office of Homeless Services are creating some sanctioned alternatives, including sleeping pods in authorized and funded campsites. The Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission voted to recommend changing portions of the city code to allow those and other alternatives — including motor vehicle camping — in practically all neighborhoods. The City Council could consider the Shelter to Housing Continuum Project recommendations later this month, although no hearing has yet been scheduled.

A previous Portland Tribune story on the project can be found here.


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