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Portland metro outreach workers connect with homeless people sleeping out on the freezing streets

At least one person died in Portland during Wednesday's record snowfall and cold temperatures, according to the county.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Multnomah County officials have identified a possible hypothermia death after severe winter weather hit the Portland metro area on Wednesday, depositing nearly a foot of snow and bringing freezing temperatures.

Investigators said that the person died Wednesday in Portland, but confirmation of hypothermia as the cause of death will not come for several weeks, perhaps months.

"The death is still considered a suspected case and is under investigation as a potential cold weather-related death," the county said. "Further tests and investigation will determine whether the death is officially cold-weather-related."

No other details about the person or circumstances of their death have been released.

Kevin Dahlgren is a homeless outreach worker in Gresham. He's so passionate about helping people get off the street, that he spent Thursday talking with campers in Portland on his own time.

KGW's Pat Dooris followed Dahlgren as he spoke with a man inside his tent amid the snow and ice.

"We're just doing a welfare check, can I talk to you for a second?" Dahlgren asked.

"Sure," the man replied.

"So my name is Kevin."

"I'm Jolly Roger."

"Your name is — okay, it's a good name," Dahlgren said.

Jolly Roger said that he's 70 years old. He had three minor strokes last year and uses a wheelchair to get around, due in part to a bad hip. His tent is about two blocks from the Outside In clinic where he receives medical care.

Dahlgren seemed perplexed as to why Roger hasn't been able to get into more stable shelter.

"You getting off the streets should not be that difficult. I'm kinda shocked you are out here," Dahlgren said.

"Well I don't know what to do," said Roger.

"Yeah, that's why you need a professional outreach worker to guide you through the system."

Dahlgren told Roger that his family should know where he is.

"It's okay for people to worry about you, brother. I want you to think about that. I'm going to check on you again very quickly, very soon I mean."

Dahlgren has been doing this kind of outreach for more than 20 years. He said that the failures of the system drive him crazy.

"He is asking for help, and he has income and I don't think he has any other barriers," he said. "There is absolutely no reason for this person to be here, you know? You heard his story. He loves his family. He hates his situation. He also said he's hungry, and I hear that a lot."

Next, Dahlgren checked on a couple living just a few tents away, Olivia and Julio. They said that they'd like to get into a shelter that accepts couples, but the waiting list is long and they don't have ID.

"Actually so that sounds like a barrier then," Dahlgren said. "Your ID's stolen. You get IDs back, everything is going to get easier. Because A you get food stamps and B then you can start applying for work and also housing and all the other stuff. So then the question is, who is helping you with ID? Who has offered? Because that's a very normal type resource out here to be offered. Sounds like they haven't offered that to you?"

He offered to connect the couple with someone who will help. He also promised to make a run to the store and bring them for coffee, as well as for Jolly Roger.

Mike Backman has been doing outreach in Beaverton for the city.

"We're trying to go out and we're gonna check on everybody so if they do change their mind, we can get them transported as quickly as possible," he said.

Near the library, he spotted a man he's talked with before, Miraak, who told him that his boots are soaking wet.

"If they've got some shoes that'll fit you, throw two of those hand warmers in there, stuff it in the bottom of your sleeping bag or something like that. Let 'em try and dry out a little bit — but really man, if it gets bad we gotta get inside, you know what I'm sayin?" Backman said. "This is not the worst of it. It's gonna get down to like wind-chills in the single digits tonight."

"Single digits? I heard it was gonna be 19 (degrees)," Miraak replied.

"Yeah, but wind chill man," Backman insisted.

Back near Portland's Outside In, Dahlgren came through with his promise of coffee for Jolly Roger. He promised to return and do whatever he can to get the 70-year-old, and the couple next door, off the street and into someplace safe and warm.

As of Thursday night, snow remained on the ground throughout the Portland metro area. It's not expected to melt for days as freezing temperatures largely stick around.

List: Warming shelters open Thursday night in Portland metro area

Multnomah County and Portland jointly opened four overnight shelters Wednesday, all of which are pet-friendly. People who need rides to shelters can call 211 or take TriMet, and won't be turned away if they don't have fare money, the county said.

All four shelters will be open again Thursday night, the county said, and all of them except the Charles Jordan Community Center will remain open during daytime hours Thursday. Charles Jordan will reopen at 8 p.m. Thursday.

For the latest information on available warming spaces, and free transportation, call 211 or go to multco.us/cold.

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