London's Guardian newspaper has taken a long look at the death of Karen Batts, a mentally ill Portland woman who died in a parking garage in the midst of January's snowstorms.
Karen Batts, who was evicted over failing to pay $338 in rent and died in a parking garage over the winter, was one of four homeless people on Portland's streets to die of hypothermia during the first two weeks of this year.
The story makes the case that Batts fell through a hole in Oregon's social safety net: She was too ill to accept help, but too cogent to be compelled.
While Portland suffers from a lack of affordable housing, Batts's death on the streets is more complicated.
Batts was living in an affordable housing complex for seniors and a disabled people, owned by Northwest Housing Alternatives.
Batts was presumably living there because she was disabled. Yet she was evicted after a breakdown in her mental health. The housing manager said she was holding loud parties, drinking wood alcohol, and not paying her rent.
"We're a housing organization, not a mental-health organization," Martha McLennan, the executive director of NHA, tells the Guardian.
The Guardian story asks what could change.
McLennan said her organization has done some “soul-searching” since Batts’s death. “If things fall apart again, what systems are there to provide resilience? If someone doesn’t have strong systems, what is going to catch them?”
She also said she regrets the eviction. “But given the same set of circumstances, would it have the same result? You know, there’s a point at which we have to look after the interests of the neighbors and the property.”
Instead of laying individual blame, onlookers condemn a fragmented web of social services that prevents even the most well-intentioned from averting tragedy. “I am angry all the time, justifiably so,” said Benji Bao Vuong, a Portland activist. “There is no holistic, integrated treatment for the houseless person.”