80 Homeless People Died In Multnomah County In 2016

By Amelia Templeton (OPB)
Dec. 14, 2017 4 p.m.

Eighty people who were homeless in Multnomah County died in 2016, according to a report released Thursday.

That's similar to the number of deaths of homeless people the county recorded in 2015: 88, the highest number since the record-keeping began.


The report is titled “Domicile Unknown,” after the box the medical examiner marks on paperwork to indicate a person was homeless.

The report highlights the dramatically lower life expectancy of people who live on the street.

Most of the 80 houseless people who died in 2016 were men. They were, on average, 51 years old at death. The homeless women who died were, on average, even younger, at 43 years old.

Many of them died in outdoor public places, but homeless people also died in hospitals. Others were found in motels, shelters, cars and in the river.

Their causes of death included accidents, illness, suicide and homicide. In half of the deaths, drug or alcohol toxicity was the cause or a contributing factor. Heroin and prescription opioids were noted in 19 people, or close to one-quarter of all homeless deaths in 2016.

The report is part of the legacy of local advocate and journalist Israel Bayer.


Bayer, the longtime executive director of the weekly paper Streetroots, pressed the county to track deaths of homeless people. He says his goal was to honor the dead and to compel people to take action to help end homelessness.

“Given the fact that dozens of people are dying on our streets every year, it shows that homelessness remains an emergency situation that we have to be able to prioritize,” Bayer said.

Bayer says the latest report reveals “the scale of the poverty that is affecting our sisters, fathers, mothers and neighbors.”

The report is based on data gathered by the Oregon State Medical Examiner and the Multnomah County Medical examiner. Those agencies investigate suspicious or unattended deaths, including accidental or violent deaths or overdoses.

The county health department does further research into cases the medical examiner flags as people who were likely homeless.

“It does not capture all deaths among people who were homeless, such as those who died in a hospital of natural causes. As a result, it is almost certainly an undercount,” the report notes.

Ninety-one deaths in 2016 were initially coded “domicile unknown” by the medical examiners.

Reviewers ultimately confirmed 80 of those deaths as people who were experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County.

Eleven cases were excluded from the county’s official tally and analysis.

Those included six people that reviewers determined were likely not homeless, three who records indicated died in Multnomah County but were transient in another county, and two infant or fetal deaths with mothers who likely were transient in another county.

The Domicile Unknown project has identified 359 deaths in Multnomah County since the first report in 2011.