Multnomah County said Tuesday that 79 people who were homeless died last year — one fewer than in 2016.
Multnomah County is the only county in Oregon, and one of only a few in the nation to track such deaths. It’s not a politically popular statistic to keep and it costs money to put together.
But county chair Deborah Kafoury said the report honors those who died and encourages an end to what she calls, “this man-made crisis.”
“No one should have to die alone and on the streets because they do not have a home,” Kafoury said. “Every single person we’ve lost is a member of our community who once had a family and a future.”
Drugs, alcohol or a combination contributed to more than half of homeless deaths. Methamphetamine was the most abused drug this year.
Portland drugs and vice officer Carlos Pagan said meth is more available and cheaper than ever before. In the last three years, he said, meth related seizures in Portland increased 300 percent.
Accidents were responsible for half of the deaths. Natural causes accounted for 29 percent. The rest were suicides, homicides or of an undetermined cause.
About 40 percent of the deaths happened outdoors, while 20 percent were in the hospital, 14 percent in cars or campers, 9 percent at homes and 8 percent in hotels or shelters.
Three-quarters of the deaths were among men. About 81 percent were white, 9 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic.
“Every year, we report on homeless deaths. Every year, the deaths are too many, the people are too young and the causes too preventable,” said Tri-County Health Officer Dr. Paul Lewis. “In every case, a lack of housing played a role.”
Lewis said public and private efforts do a lot to prevent deaths in Multnomah County, but added he was “still ashamed at the number we continue to report every year.”
The figures are part of the 2017 Domicile Unknown report, a project of the Multnomah County Health Department in partnership with Street Roots. The project began in 2012 as a way to drive policy and funding decisions on housing, health and homelessness.
“When you’re a drug addict, death is always going on. People are always dying,” said Art Garcia, a longtime Street Roots volunteer. “It was really often that people overdosed and you’d wake up and someone would be dead. You’re talking to the guy, and the next morning you wake up and they’re gone. On the streets, it’s like that, every day.”