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City, county ask community for help following four hypothermia deaths


Emergency shelters will be open again Tuesday night ahead of snow. Multnomah County cautions that people with non-urgent health conditions may face a long wait at hospital emergency departments.

Four people have died of hypothermia this winter since Portland's cold snap started at the beginning of the month. All who died were confirmed homeless or likely homeless.

The city and county addressed the issue at a Tuesday afternoon press conference where officials asked the community for help in reporting those in need by calling 911 for urgent situations or 503-823-3333 for non-emergencies.

"I want to go one step further than just asking the city and its employees to do its part. I'm also asking the public to do its part," Mayor Ted Wheeler said. "You are not inconveniencing anybody by calling 911, and you might be saving somebody's life."

On Jan. 10, Portland police found the body of a 29-year-old male down a hillside near the 4900 block of Southwest Barbur Boulevard. Preliminary reports indicate he died of hypothermia due to exposure. Detectives believe he was living in the woods below the boulevard.

On Jan. 7, police found Karen Batts, 52, dead in a Smart Park parking garage on Southwest 10th Avenue. She had been evicted from her low-income apartment just blocks away in October.

On Jan. 2, Mark Elliot Johnson, 51, was found dead under a blanket in the doorway of a business on East Burnside Street. His last known address was in Hillsboro.

Finally, on New Year's Day, Jan. 1, David Guyot, 68, died of hypothermia at a hospital following a passerby's call to 911 after spotting him struggling at a bus stop, the Oregonian first reported.

Hypothermia occurs when the body begins to lose heat faster than it's produced.

It has contributed to five deaths of homeless people in the last 5 years: In 2011, it contributed to three deaths but wasn't the immediate cause; in 2013, it caused one death; while 2014 and 2015 yielded no deaths by hypothermia, according to Paul Lewis, health officer with Multnomah County.

Wheeler said the city and county opened 600 additional beds during the severe weather, including the emergency shelter at the Portland Building. Shelters will open again Tuesday, Jan. 10. County spokesperson Mike Pullen said though the Portland Building wasn't open tonight, it may reopen tomorrow.

To find shelter and transportation to a shelter, call 211 or visit 211info.org where there is a full list of all emergency shelters in Multnomah County and elsewhere. Portland Police also will continue to look for vulnerable people on the street and offer transportation to shelters.

Severe weather shelters don't require any type of documentation or identification, and will accommodate individuals and couples, all belongings and pets.

Families with children seeking shelter should also call 211 and will be directed to a shelter that can accommodate children.