Sunday, January 8, 2017

Portland's Cold Winter Taking Toll on the Homeless

Dr Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal.

This year's severe and cold winter in Portland, Oregon has taken its toll on the homeless people. In the first fifteen days of the new year, 4 people have already died due to the effects of the cold. 

On the first day of January, a 68-year-old homeless man was found at a downtown bus stop, and later died of hypothermia in the hospital. A 51-year-old homeless man died of hypothermia on the street from the cold last week. A 52-year-old woman died from apparent cold exposure inside a parking garage on Saturday. A 29-year-old man, living in the woods, was found dead near SW Barbur Boulevard on Wednesday due to exposure to the cold. 

It is estimated that there are about 4,000 homeless people in Portland. For that matter, the numbers of the homeless in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle are over 75,000, 41,000 and 10,000 respectively. The number of homeless people in Portland has remained steady over the last ten years. In contrast, the national homeless count has dropped by 11 percent since 2007. 

This is mainly due to the housing problem that has plagued Portland for decades. It is apparent that there is a lack of permanent housing as well as emergency shelter space. When there is a lack in places for the homeless to stay in, illegal camping becomes more pronounced, leading to even more challenges for the homeless and the city. 

The woman mentioned earlier, Karen Lee Batts, was evicted from her apartment, after she failed to pay her $338 monthly rent. The apartment was an affordable housing unit for seniors and people with disabilities. She had been homeless since October and was found dead in a parking garage just eight blocks from the apartment she was evicted from. 

This year's unusually cold, windy and snowy weather has also severely affected the people of Portland from all walks of life. But the worst hit lot - from what many observers call the nasty weather - are the homeless. Specifically those who are more vulnerable in this kind of inclement weather are the homeless women, children and elderly. 

The deaths these homeless men and women recently have once again raised the questions about the vulnerability of the homeless in Portland, as well as in the US. The deaths also bring up questions about the callousness of society towards those who have no choice but to live on the streets or cars. 

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler says that this winter weather has increased the toll on the housing crisis. The emergency shelters are overwhelmed at the moment so many do not have a place to turn to when the snow hits a foot high. 

Wheeler has emphasized the importance of getting people inside and safe from the cold. This past Wednesday, the city of Portland opened up the lobby of its largest office, the Portland Building, for about 40 people. Wheeler has said it will remain open for them for the next few nights during this snowfall. 

Places like Portland Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army Female Emergency Center are in need of extra items such as blankets, jackets, socks, gloves, etc. There are also certain shelters that are currently open and are listed here:

There is no doubt that the deaths of these homeless people in Portland last week owing to the unusually cold weather was preventable. 

What is being done in the city of Portland to help them in the long run? The leaders of Portland and Multnomah County are currently in the process of resetting the old 10-year-plan to reduce the number of homeless and a building a new plan involving a National Housing Trust Fund. 

So, the local TV channel in Portland KATU News has rightfully deemed this as "historic snowfall." This historic snowfall has also led to a historic number of deaths due to hypothermia. 

Chris, seen below, says he has become homeless owing to a physical disability. He says life is really miserable for him in this cold and snowy winter.
                                                                                          (Photo: Rabin Man Shakya)

Chris, a homeless man, in Portland, Oregon.

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