Homeless dying at disproportionate rate in Multnomah County
Far more homeless people are dying in Multnomah County than any other part of Oregon, according to recently released state figures.
The Oregon Health Authority reports that 207 homeless people died in the state in the first six months of 2022. Of those, 73 died in Multnomah County. That is 35% of the total, even though the county only accounts for 19% of the state's population.
Multnomah County has consistently had the highest number of homeless people in federally required Point in Time counts, but they are thought to be unreliable.
If the deaths continue at the existing rate, the Multnomah County total is likely to exceed the 126 compiled by the county in 2020, the last year for which a local report has been issued. The 2021 county total is not scheduled to be released until later this year.
The new figures are the first statewide accounting of homeless deaths in Oregon. They were compiled by the Health Authority after the 2021 Oregon Legislature passed a law requiring annual statement totals. Geographic, demographic, mortality and other information is posted on an online Health Authority dashboard.
Multnomah County has been releasing annual Domicile Unknown reports on homeless deaths in the county since 2011. County officials say exact comparisons between the state figures and those in their reports are not realistic. The county figures are compiled by the Multnomah County Health Department and Medical Examiner. The state figures are reported by funeral directors.
"Since the Multnomah County Health Department and medical examiner began tracking deaths among people who were homeless in 2011, we have known our analysis was an undercount of all homeless deaths, as not all deaths fall under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner," said Multnomah County Communications Director Julie Sullivan-Springhetti.
Among the trends revealed during the first six months of 2022:
• Most deaths (154) were from "natural causes" but drug- and alcohol-related deaths were not identified separately.
• The majority of those who died were white (170), followed by American Indians and Alaska Natives (14), Blacks and Hispanics (nine each), two or more races (three), and Asians and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders (one each). Ten are unknown.
• American Indians and Alaska Natives died at the highest rate per 100,000 population (28), followed by Blacks (9.6), Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders (5.6), whites (5.1), two or more races (2.1), Hispanics (1.6), and Asians (0.5)
• Nearly four times as many men (165) died as women (42).
• The age group with the highest number of deaths was 55 to 64 (69).
• Most deaths (48) occurred in January.
After Multnomah County, rural Oregon accounted for the next highest number of homeless deaths, 42. Remaining totals by county were: Lane, 31; Marion and Polk, 23; Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson, 11; Jackson, 9; Washington, 9; and Clackamas, 5.
The OHA dashboard can be found here.
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