A record 126 people died in 2020 while homeless in Oregon’s most populous county, officials said on Wednesday.
None of the deaths in Multnomah County, which includes Portland, have been attributed to COVID-19. Instead, methamphetamines have been a factor in nearly half of the deaths, a record number since authorities began tracking homeless deaths a decade ago.
“Over nine reports, this has done more than simply remind us that the weather, violence, trauma and instability that people are exposed to when they do not have safe housing are often fatal,” he said. County President Deborah Kafoury said in presenting the annual “Home Unknown” report. “It also reminds us that behind every death there is a name, a family, a set of circumstances and a story.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, there was no immediately available vaccine and the homeless population was among the most vulnerable groups – with an increased risk of serious illness from COVID-19 – because of collective living environments and underlying health problems.
But in what Jennifer Vines, the county health worker, described as a “startling discovery,” none of the county’s homeless deaths have been attributed to the virus.
Vines said possible explanations for that number are an increasingly younger homeless population – because young adults are less likely to be hospitalized due to illness – and because there has been no no known COVID-19 outbreaks for people living outside in 2020 and few outbreaks in shelters.
Vines said it is possible that some COVID-19-related deaths were overlooked, as homeless people hospitalized for at least 24 hours before a natural death were not included in the report.
However, in 62 deaths, methamphetamines were a significant factor. Vines said officials had heard reports that methamphetamine was being made “stronger, cheaper and more available on our streets.”
Unlike opioids, there is no treatment that relieves methamphetamine poisoning or helps with withdrawal and cravings, and no equivalent of naloxone, which reverses an opioid overdose, Vines said.
Among the deaths last year was Christopher Madson-Yamasaki, who died of a methamphetamine overdose. The 26-year-old’s mother, Hope Yamasaki, touched on her son’s struggle for help on Wednesday.
Yamasaki said her son, who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder – a chronic condition in which a person exhibits symptoms of schizophrenia and disorders such as depression – has spent years entering and exiting programs.
“I don’t even know how to count. We went back and forth between hospital patients, ”Yamasaki said. “He was kicked out of drug rehab because of mental health issues and kicked out of mental health programs because of drugs.”
But one morning in February 2020, Yamasaki received a knock on his door.
“My daughter and I could sense that something was wrong and she begged me not to answer. I had to do it, ”Yamasaki said. A policeman stood in front of her. “I learned … that my oldest son has left this world. He was kicked out of the shelter because he was smoking on the fire escape and acting erratically. He was found in a tent in Northwest Portland, not too far from where he was going to school.
The average age of death among people who are homeless was 46, more than three decades younger than the average life expectancy of a person living in the United States. and homeless camps.
Oregon has a higher rate of homeless people than almost any other state in the country.
A 2020 federal review found that 35 people in Oregon are homeless per 10,000. Only three states had a higher rate: New York (47 people per 10,000), Hawaii (46 people per 10,000) and California (41 people per 10,000).
In Multnomah County, more than 4,000 people were made homeless in 2019 – half were “not safe” or sleeping outside.
When the county started tracking the number of homeless people who died in 2011, there were 47.
“Homelessness matters,” Yamasaki said. “Those who have mental health issues and addiction issues are important. Chris mattered.
Cline is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative Corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.