The First Climate Deaths in Portland Were Nearly Invisible. Here Are Two of the People Killed.

Steven Greenfield’s phone-prayer group at All Saints Catholic Parish suspected something was wrong when he didn’t phone in for prayer.

Portland’s heat deaths—54 of them officially confirmed as hyperthermia—were all but invisible. People died in their own homes, and county and state medical examiners declined to release the names or addresses of the deceased. The victims died anonymously, their circumstances a secret.

Here are two.

Brenda

A woman named Brenda lived on the fourth floor of the Peter Paulson Apartments, a low-income building near the Portland Art Museum downtown. She died sometime in the night June 29.

Brenda had gray hair but dyed it red. She was overweight, used a seated scooter and loved to zoom around on it—sometimes too fast, says her neighbor down the hall, Christina Leino. None of her neighbors knew her last name.

The Peter Paulson is exactly the type of living environment the county warned about prior to the heat wave: high-rise buildings housing old people without AC.

The downtown building is bordered by the freeway and other high-rises. The five floors are made of red brick and concrete. A few sparse trees come up to the second floor, providing minimal shade.

“They don’t give a darn,” says one of Brenda’s neighbors, Rick Thompson, who said no one ever knocked on his door to check on him.

Steven Greenfield

Greenfield was a disabled veteran. He lived in Apartment 29 at Peaceful Villa, a Home Forward complex for older tenants, most with disabilities, in the Richmond neighborhood. On the Monday afternoon five days after he was found dead, two identical notes hung from the doorknob to his apartment: “Sorry we missed you!” Greenfield’s phone-prayer group at All Saints Catholic Parish suspected something was wrong when he didn’t phone in for prayer. He was found dead in his apartment June 30. AC isn’t installed in the low-income units. Residents have to purchase their own. During the heat wave, they say, the air-conditioned common space was closed.

Home Forward confirms the common space wasn’t open, but declined to say why. Executive director Michael Buonoco told reporters July 7 that Home Forward conducted no outreach at the building, despite the fact it’s a senior complex.

Neighbors remembered Greenfield as a classic car buff. One said she and Greenfield came outside just before midnight Friday to start their cars and make sure they were still running right before the height of the heat wave. Greenfield’s car radio was playing ’70s rock as he toggled the key.

Read our cover story: The Hottest Place in Portland.