PORTLAND, Ore. – Just a couple hours after the city learned a fourth person died from hypothermia in Portland this year, city and county leaders renewed their commitment to helping the homeless find shelter during the severe winter weather.
“Four people died in the past few days. That’s four too many,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said during a press conference Tuesday night.
Wheeler said the city has opened 600 emergency shelter beds during the winter storms in the new year, in addition to the 1,100 beds already available. However, he admits it obviously hasn’t been enough.
“This is very important and personal to me,” Wheeler said. “I will be out in the community checking in on people who are living on the streets.”
Four people have died in Portland from hypothermia in 2017. The first occurred on New Year’s Day when a man was found dead at a bus station. The second was on Jan. 2 when a homeless man was found dead in downtown Portland. On Jan. 7, a woman who was recently evicted for low-income housing was found dead in a downtown parking garage. On Tuesday morning, a 29-year-old man was found dead along a Southwest Barbur Boulevard hillside.
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said that number matches the number of people who died from hypothermia in 2011 and 2013 combined.
Wheeler made a plea the public: help if you see someone who may be in trouble.
“I’m also asking the public to do their part,” he said. “If you’re out and about and you see someone in distress, please call 911. You are not inconveniencing anybody and you might be saving someone’s life.”
Wheeler said if you see someone out in the cold and in danger, call 911. If you see someone on the street who is need of shelter, call 211 or the police non-emergency number at 503-823-3333.
He also told people that if they’re uncomfortable with approaching a person who appears to be homeless, call 211 or the police non-emergency number and they will follow up.
“This is a community moment,” Wheeler said. “Be the eyes of the community. If you can do that, we can do rest.”
Wheeler and Kafoury acknowledged that some homeless people will refuse help at a shelter. But they argued the city has to try and help everyone.
"While I can't promise you we will save every life, I can promise you we will try," Kafoury said.