Community responds to record number of homeless deaths in Multnomah Co.

Published: Feb. 16, 2023 at 4:03 PM PST
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Local outreach workers and those who previously experienced homelessness are weighing in on troubling new data released by Multnomah County Health Department.

New data released Wednesday found in 2021, the number of deaths from people experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County was the highest it’s ever been, with the leading cause being drug overdoses. After drug overdoses, homicides were the second leading cause.

According to the data, in Multnomah County in 2021, 193 people died while experiencing homelessness, which equates to nearly four deaths every single week. In 2020 that number was 126, and in 2019, 113 people. About 60 percent of all the 2021 deaths were from drug overdoses, with meth and opioids leading the way. Officials are also alarmed about what they say is a dramatic rise in fentanyl overdoses.

Chris Harvey has lived in transitional housing at Blanchet House in Old Town for 8 months. He says prior to that, he had been living on the streets struggling with addiction after his wife passed away. He says the devastating loss caused him to fall back into old habits after years of sobriety and lose almost everything.

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“I ended up down here in downtown Portland broke, destitute, nowhere to go,” said Harvey. “I slept in an abandoned warehouse across the river for 15 days.”

Harvey says he was regularly using fentanyl and was aware of the gamble it was every time he took the drug. He says with this in mind, he is not surprised by the county’s report, and says fentanyl is everywhere.

“You never know what you’re going to get. So, one day you might get something that’s weak, the next day you could do the same amount and overdose,” he said. “It’s flooded here. It’s everywhere. I can walk right up the street and find anything I want.”

For program manager Jon Seibert at Blanchet House, it’s not surprising to see deaths on the streets dramatically increasing because of meth and opioids.

“Anyone who has been following the point in time counts and has seen the number of homeless individuals and unsheltered homeless individuals has gone up the way it has, it’s not surprising deaths have gone up.”

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Harvey says he has been in Blanchet House’s transitional program for about 8 months. He says for himself and many people he met while living on the streets, the goal is to beat addiction and get help.

“There are a lot of other ones that really want to do something about it, and really get themselves out of it,” said Harvey. “So, I would just say don’t lump everybody together.”

A breakdown of the report can be found here.