Two people die of hypothermia in Portland within a week

Outreach workers convince homeless to come inside

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The woman who died of hypothermia in a downtown Portland parking garage over the weekend became homeless in part, because she failed to make a rent payment of $338 on time. She is the second person to die because of cold weather in just a week.

"It's horrible. Nobody should freeze to death on the streets of Portland, Oregon," said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. In his first act as mayor, Wheeler opened the Portland Building 24-7 this weekend to the homeless. It filled up with 90 people sleeping head to toe in the lobby.

"We need to do much more as a community to create humane and attractive alternatives to people living on the streets," Wheeler said. "We need more emergency shelters."

It might have saved a 51-year-old man who died of hypothermia under a blanket on East Burnside Street at 99th Avenue last week. Or 52-year-old Karen Batts who died Saturday of hypothermia in the SmartPark parking garage on Southwest 10th Avenue and Yamhill Street.

She become homeless in October when court records show she was evicted from her low-income apartment because she didn't pay her $338 rent on time. Many Portlanders are that close to living on the streets.

"We have a housing affordability crisis in Portland," said Wheeler. "There's things we can do to strengthen the protections that renters in particular have, so they're not forced into homelessness in the short term."

Roberto Rios and Erin Fisher are with homeless outreach organization Transition Projects. Three times a week they walk to find the homeless, and hand out warm hats, socks and first aid supplies. They also try and convince them to come to the shelter.

"The ones who don't want to come in, it's because they have anxiety, they have PTSD or they can't be around people so close," Rios said.

He can't force people to come inside but he understands their stubbornness. He used to be there before he got clean from drugs and off the streets where he was homeless for six years.

Portland's housing crisis is one thing, but Rios says we have another problem on the streets too. "I was surprised to see how much of a mental health issue there is here in Portland. It's mind boggling."

It is unprecedented to have two people die in a week of exposure in Portland. According to Multnomah County, in the past five years, five people died from winter weather.


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