Last year saw eight fewer deaths among people who are homeless since 2015, but advocates say much more needs to be done.

MULTNOMAH COUNTY - Multnomah County released its report on homeless deaths in 2016 on Thursday.Eighty homeless people died in Multnomah County last year, according to the 2016 Domicile Unknown report released Thursday by the Health Department.

That's eight fewer deaths than 2015, but more than twice as many as 2013, which had the lowest total since the annual reports began in 2011.

"We are again seeing people die decades ahead of their time, of preventable deaths, all around us,'' says Israel Bayer, executive director of Street Roots, a homeless advocacy organization, who worked with the county to develop the report. "This is not normal and it is not acceptable.''

The report is sponsored by Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. She said 2016 was a turning point for the community. Multnomah County and the city of Portland created a Joint Office of Homeless Services and both governments found tens of millions of dollars in new funding for housing and services.

Among other things, the homeless services office plans to open a new 100-bed shelter on Southeast Foster Boulevard and announced Wednesday the opening of a seasonal family shelter at Congregation Beth Israel in Northwest Portland.

"We began to double the number of shelter beds and opened shelters for women experiencing domestic violence, for couples and for families. We opened new seasonal and severe weather shelters. And, we increased the number of people who moved back into permanent housing and helped record numbers of people from ever becoming homeless in the first place," Kafoury says.

'Need to do more'

The latest Point in Time homeless count shows that although the number of homeless people in the county increased 10 percent from 2015 to 2017, a smaller percent were without shelter of any kind.

"But it is clear we need to do more. We need stable funding for affordable housing. We need legislative support. And we need our entire community: businesses, faith communities, and nonprofits to work with us. We do not have to be a place where people die on our streets," Kafoury says.

The state medical examiner and the Multnomah County medical examiner are responsible for investigating all sudden, unexpected, violent, suspicious or unattended deaths. At least 359 homeless people have in the county since the department began releasing the reports in 2011.

Among the report's key findings for 2016:

• Deaths occurred in every geographic quadrant of the county.

• Thirty-two of the deaths, or more than one third, occurred in public spaces.

• Opioids were a factor in half of of the deaths where alcohol or drug overdose was the primary or contributing cause — in nearly a quarter of the deaths.

• The age, race and gender of those who died to 2015. Seventy-nine percent of them were male with an average age of 51 years at death. The 17 females who died had an average age of 43 years. Although race was not established in all cases, the majority were classified as White (64, 82 percent), followed by Black/African American (nine, 12 percent). Other racial categories accounted for fewer than three deaths each. Racial information was missing for two of the deaths.

The annual report was developed to help the public, elected officials and social service providers identify how resources and policies can be directed to save lives.

You can read the report here.

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