After Woman Dies During Portland Snowfall, Mayor Ted Wheeler Expands Hours of Cold-Weather Shelter

The death expedited the mayor’s decision to open the shelter at all hours.

Hours after a woman was found dead in a downtown Portland parking garage during Portland's weekend snowfall, Mayor Ted Wheeler announced he'll keep a city building open day and night as a cold-weather shelter.

Wheeler announced this afternoon that the Portland Building, the government office tower a block north of City Hall, will be open from 7 pm tonight until at least 7 am Monday to provide a warm location for homeless people and anyone else needing shelter from the snow and cold.

The mayor's announcement came shortly after 5 pm. Three hours earlier, Portland Police found a 52-year-old woman dead in a parking garage on Southwest 10th Avenue.

Police said the woman, who lived downtown, was seen taking off her clothes in the garage around 2 pm, and may have died from the cold. Snow fell intermittently throughout the afternoon today, with a high of 28 degrees.

Wheeler's spokesman Michael Cox says the death expedited the mayor's decision to open the shelter at all hours.

"Conversations about the possibility predated the news of today's tragedy," Cox tells WW. "Certainly the news reinforced our decision to move forward."

Today's fatality is the second outdoor death in Portland since a cold front hit the city early this week. Mark Elliot Johnson, a 51-year-old homeless man, died of hypothermia on an East Portland sidewalk Monday night.

Wheeler opened the Portland Building as a cold-weather overnight shelter on Thursday, asking city employees to volunteer in staffing it. The building is located at 1120 SW 5th Ave., next to City Hall.

UPDATE, 11:56 am Monday, Jan. 9: The woman who died Saturday has been identified as Karen Lee Batts. Portland police say she died of hypothermia due to exposure.

The Oregonian reports that Batts was evicted from low-income senior housing in October, and appeared to be homeless at the time of her death.

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