homeless

PMG FILE PHOTO - A person sleeps on a downtown Portland park bench.

Homeless deaths increased 11 percent in Multnomah County last year, according to a report released Wednesday.

County officials and homeless advocates discussed the 2020 Domicile Unknown report during a Dec. 15 press conference. They said 126 people without addresses died last year compared to 113 in 2019.

"The life-changing, life-saving difference that housing can make is exactly why we are working urgently to push the resources we have into programs and interventions that help people find safety, stability and a path forward," Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said in her opening statement in the report.

The officials said methamphetamine drug overdoses accounted for a disproportionate amount of the increase.

The increase occurs despite additional funding for homeless services and more affordable house from the city of Portland, Multnomah County and their Joint Office of Homeless Services.

According to the report, since the Multnomah County Health Department and Medical Examiner began tracking deaths among people who were homeless in 2011, at least 766 people have died. In 2019, 113 people died, preceded by 92 people in 2018, 79 in 2017, 80 in 2016, 88 in 2015, 56 in 2014, 32 in 2013, 56 in 2012 and 47 in 2011.

Key findings in the 202o report include:

• The average age of death among people experiencing homelessness was 46, more than three decades younger than the average life expectancy for someone living in the United States.

• None of those identified as having their home unknown in 2020 succumbed to COVID-19. Some cases may have been omitted, however, as any individual hospitalized for at least 24 hours prior to a natural death would not be captured in this report.

• Methamphetamines were a significant factor, contributing to 62 deaths — nearly half of all deaths and nearly 80% of all deaths involving substances — the highest total number and highest percentage of total cases since Domicile Unknown was first published.

• Six of eight homicides were carried out with a firearm, the highest percentage in at least three years for which data was published. That tracks with an overall local increase in gun violence in 2020, when shooting incidents reported to the Portland Police Bureau more than doubled, from 388 in 2019 to 891 in 2020.

• Fewer people took their own lives in 2020; four deaths — representing 3% of all deaths — were from suicide, the smallest percentage since Domicile Unknown was first published in 2012.

• Seventy-nine percent (100) of those who died were males and 26 were females. Ninety-Five were white, 14 were Black, seven were Hispanic, five were Native American/American Indian and five were unknown.

• About half of all deaths (65) occurred between April and September, while 61 occurred during the colder months of October to March. There were three deaths where hypothermia was listed as a cause or a significant other finding related to death, and all occurred in the October to March period.

Others who spoke at the press conference included: Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury; Street Roots' director Kaia Sand; County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines; County Harm Reduction Clinic Specialist Julie Lukesh; and Chief Medicolegal Death Investigator Kimberly DiLeo.

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