• Report: 80 homeless people died on Portland streets in 2016

    By: GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press

    Updated:
    PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Eighty homeless people died on the streets of Portland and in the surrounding area last year, adding to a tally of more than 350 people who have perished while homeless in the past six years, local authorities said Thursday.

    The numbers were only a slight improvement over 2015, when 88 homeless people died, and officials expect the 2017 numbers will be worse because of an unusual cold snap last January that killed at least six people.

    The report has been released annually by Multnomah County, home to Portland, since 2011 and it is one barometer the city uses to track its progress on addressing the homeless crisis that has overwhelmed the West Coast from Seattle to San Diego. In Seattle, a similar count found 91 homeless people died in 2016 despite a much larger homeless population.

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    "These neighbors are literally dying right in front of us," said Deborah Kafoury, chairwoman of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. "This is unacceptable. This is not normal."

    Numbers released earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Housing and Development found the overall homeless population in California, Oregon and Washington grew by 14 percent over the past two years.

    The part of that population considered unsheltered - living in vehicles, tents or on the streets - climbed 23 percent to 108,000, in part due a shortage of affordable housing.

    The report notes that, for the first time, volunteers conducting the homeless count found more people sleeping in shelters than outside, but more people said they were homeless and for a longer period of time. The new details on homeless mortality add to that bleak picture.

    Thirty-two of the victims died in public spaces and ranged in age from 20 to 78, the report said. Nearly 80 percent were men.

    To the north, about 32 percent of likely homeless deaths investigated by the medical examiner's office in King County - the home of Seattle - were attributed to drugs or poison.

    In Portland, county officials said the numbers of dead from 2017 were likely to be worse when they are tallied next year.

    A frigid cold spell that gripped Portland last January was the second-coldest since 1941 and took a toll on the homeless. People were found dead of exposure and hypothermia in a parking garage, in the doorway of a business and in an encampment in the woods.

    Sixty percent of deaths in 2016 were accidental and 32 were natural, meaning they were related to heart, liver or lung problems.

    Twelve deaths were homicides or suicides and three had an undetermined cause of death, possibly from drowning and overdoses.

    The annual reports have spurred the city and county to take additional steps to address emergency shelter needs.

    Starting last year, the two governments merged staff and budgets to form a joint office to address homelessness.

    That office is working to double shelter beds and has opened new shelters for women, couples and families. New seasonal and severe weather shelters have also opened their doors.

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