193 Homeless People Died in Multnomah County in 2021

County officials say that’s the highest number of deaths since it began tracking houseless deaths over a decade ago.

CHILLING: A Southeast Portland homeless camp in December 2022 snow. (Blake Benard)

One hundred and ninety-three homeless people living in the Portland area died during 2021, according to Multnomah County’s annual “domicile unknown” report released Wednesday morning.

The figure is the highest the county has recorded since it began tracking houseless deaths over a decade ago. The increases over the years are staggering: In 2011, 47 deaths were recorded. In 2016, 80. In 2020, 126.

County officials report that 93 of the deaths were partly caused by meth. Fentanyl contributed to 36 deaths, about a third of total deaths.

Eighteen people were killed; that’s up from eight homicide deaths in 2020. Eight people died by suicide.

Three-quarters of those who died were male, and one quarter were female. The average age was 47.

A little over three-quarters were white, while 10% were Black.

In 113 of the deaths, or 59%, one or more substances was involved. The most prevalent contributing drugs were methamphetamine, fentanyl and opioids.

On Tuesday evening, the city commissioner in charge of the fire bureau, Rene Gonzalez, announced that he had suspended all distribution of tents and tarps to homeless Portlanders from his bureaus. Gonzalez oversees Portland Street Response, a nonpolice response for people experiencing drug and mental health crises that carries tents and tarps when responding to calls.

Gonzalez cited the prevalence of fires started in homeless camps due to cooking and warming fires, and instructed people to go to warming shelters when available. He called fires in camps a “grave public safety emergency for our city” and cited a particularly devastating incident this week under the Morrison Bridge where police reported that six puppies had died.

According to the county’s report released today, eight people died of hypothermia brought on by extreme cold in 2021. No deaths listed in the report were caused by fires. Fire was not listed as a cause of death for any of the deaths that the county attributed to specific causes.

Four people died of hyperthermia, brought on by extreme heat.

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