Frigid winter temperatures claim lives of homeless residents
By mid-January, four people had lost their lives to exposure-related hypothermia, including two in Southwest Portland.
Two people have died from exposure in Southwest Portland after cold weather swept over the city, contributing to half of the temperature-related deaths reported as of mid-January.
On the morning of Jan. 10, the body of an unidentified 29-year-old man was discovered on a wooded hillside near the 4900 block of Southwest Barbur Boulevard. Police later confirmed the man had died of hypothermia due to exposure.
A few days earlier — on the afternoon of Jan. 7 — Portland police found the body of 52-year-old Southwest Portland native Karen Lee Batts in a Smart Park parking garage on Southwest 10th Avenue. Police responded to a report that a woman in her 50s had been removing clothing and was struggling in the cold weather. The Oregon Medical Examiner's office said on Jan. 9 that Batts died of hypothermia.
The incidents follow the hypothermia death of a 51-year-old homeless man, Mark Elliot Johnson, who was found in the doorway of an East Portland business on Jan. 2, as well as the hypothermia-related death of David B. Guyot, 68, who was found at a bus stop in downtown Portland on New Year's Day.
Hypothermia occurs when the body begins to lose heat faster than it is produced. Homeless people's deaths are tracked by Multnomah County and detailed in the annual Domicile Unknown report.
Hypothermia had contributed to only five deaths of homeless people in the past five years: In 2011, it contributed to three deaths but wasn't the immediate cause, and it caused one death each in 2012 and 2013. No deaths were attributed to hypothermia in 2014 and 2015, according to Paul Lewis, health officer with Multnomah County.
Portland Police urge people to call 911 if someone outside appears to be in danger or in a medical crisis. Non-emergency situations, such as someone not being dressed for the weather, should be reported to 503-823-3333 for a welfare check.
To find shelter or transportation to a shelter, call 211 or visit 211info.org for a full list of emergency shelters in Multnomah County and elsewhere.
Severe weather shelters don't require any type of documentation or identification and will accommodate individuals and couples, all belongings and pets. Shelters are currently seeking donations of warm clothes. Find more info at 211info.org/donations.
Southwest Community Connection reporter Hannah Rank contributed to this story.