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At least 126 people died homeless last year in Multnomah County

126 people who lived on the streets of Multnomah County died last year, the highest number since authorities started tracking the data in 2011.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

At least 126 people who lived on the streets of Multnomah County died in 2020, the highest number since authorities began tracking the data in 2011.

The deaths were all investigated by a medical examiner as they were either considered suspicious or occurred outside of a hospital or other health care setting.

A striking figure from the annual report: Methamphetamine has contributed to 62 deaths. That’s almost 80% of all substance use deaths, “… far surpassing things like opioids, heroin, alcohol and fentanyl,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, head of Multnomah County Health.

The methamphetamine figure is the highest percentage reported since the start of the Domicile Unknown study.

The Domicile Unknown 2020 report, written by Multnomah County and alternative newspaper Street Roots, included the story of a 26-year-old man, Christopher Madsen-Yamasaki, who overdosed on methamphetamines in a tent nestled under an overpass. of Interstate 405. His mother, Hope Yamasaki, said Christopher was trapped between an addiction for which no medication could ease his craving and a mental illness that prevented healing from being restored.

“He would be asked to leave addiction centers because they cannot treat mental health. And they would be asked to leave the mental hospital because they can’t deal with drug addiction issues, ”Hope Yamasaki said.

She said that sometimes her son would beg for treatment.

“Help is not as easy to get as a lot of people think,” she said. “There just aren’t enough resources available. “

Christopher Madson-Yamasaki, 26, died in his tent from a methamphetamine overdose.  He is just one of 126 people who died homeless in Multnomah County last year.

Christopher Madson-Yamasaki, 26, died in his tent from a methamphetamine overdose. He is just one of 126 people who died homeless in Multnomah County last year.

Multnomah County

Related: Address unknown: Multnomah County report on deaths among homeless people in 2020

Another surprising fact included in the report is that none of the reported deaths were caused by COVID-19.

Multnomah County President Deborah Kafoury said it could be because the county responded quickly to the pandemic. “The addition of temporary shelter sites allowed us to maintain the number of shelter beds while practicing physical distancing,” she said.

Kafoury said the rapid shift to providing single rooms in physically remote motel shelters and voluntary isolation motels has also helped.

“I am grateful that these decisive actions helped us avoid the wave of deaths from COVID-19 that we feared could be possible among those who lived outside,” she said.

Still, a report released on these deaths on Wednesday indicated that some cases of COVID-19 may have been missed because people hospitalized for at least 24 hours before the death would not have been included.

Dr Jennifer Vines said the Domicile Unknown 2020 report lists many causes of death. Half of the cases were considered accidental death and about a third were from natural causes. Eight of the 126 recorded deaths were homicides, and six of them involved the use of a firearm – the highest percentage in three years. This follows with an overall increase in gun violence in 2020 in Portland.

Related: With measure 110, Oregon becomes the first state in the United States to decriminalize drug possession

While the number of homeless deaths reached an all-time high in 2020, the number of homeless people has also increased over the past decade.

The average age of those who died on the streets was 46, “which is incredibly young,” Vines said. The average life expectancy of Americans is 78 years.

Men accounted for about 80% of the deaths in the report. The percentage of blacks and people of Alaskan and Native American descent who died homeless in the past year has exceeded the actual demographics of Multnomah County.

Fewer people living on the streets committed suicide in 2020. There were four suicide deaths – accounting for 3% of all reported deaths – the lowest number since the county and service providers started tracking homeless deaths a decade ago.

The likelihood of a person dying homeless does not seem to change in cold weather: around 52% of deaths were reported during the warmer months.


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