Dying on the Streets

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In Portland, the Multnomah County Medical Examiner’s office released recently a report on deaths that occurred among people who have no known address.

This report admits that the numbers they have are limited and that the report is far from inclusive about deaths of the homeless. For instance, it does not include those who lived on the street, but died in a hospital or a shelter. With these limited figures, the Medical Examiner determined that there were 47 deaths on the street last year. The median age of those dead was 49. Seven were women. There were more deaths in the cold months than in the warm, although hypothermia was an indirect cause in only three deaths. Of these 47 deaths, 29 were caused by drugs or alcohol (only three died from alcohol). The greatest drug killer was heroin, who killed almost a third of those who died on the street.

This is a crisis. People dying young, dying on the street, and such a large percentage of the street population. This is, for the most part, preventable.

The recommendations of the report to the county is to obtain housing for people, to build up a health infrastructure, to inform people of services and to get people help to reduce alcohol and drug abuse.

Of course, the other issue is community. The report mentions that many of these deaths were caused by isolation as much as anything else. Housing is very helpful, but if one is isolated in a house, there is still many of the same issues. If we can build communities among the homeless, give them purpose, give them hope, then changes can be made.

That’s one of Anawim’s main goals: to build community and purpose among the homeless.

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