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80 Homeless People Died In Multnomah County In 2016

Eighty people who were homeless in Multnomah County died in 2016, according to a report released Thursday.

That's similar to the number of deaths of homeless people the county recorded in 2015: 88, the highest number since the record-keeping began.  

80 Homeless People Died In Multnomah County In 2016

Eighty people who were homeless in Multnomah County died in 2016, according to a report released Thursday.

That's similar to the number of deaths of homeless people the county recorded in 2015: 88, the highest number since the record-keeping began.  

The report is titled “Domicile Unknown,” after the box the medical examiner marks on paperwork to indicate a person was homeless.

The report highlights the dramatically lower life expectancy of people who live on the street. 

Most of the 80 houseless people who died in 2016 were men. They were, on average, 51 years old at death. The homeless women who died were, on average, even younger, at 43 years old.

Many of them died in outdoor public places, but homeless people also died in hospitals. Others were found in motels, shelters, cars and in the river.

Their causes of death included accidents, illness, suicide and homicide. In half of the deaths, drug or alcohol toxicity was the cause or a contributing factor. Heroin and prescription opioids were noted in 19 people, or close to one-quarter of all homeless deaths in 2016. 

The report is part of the legacy of local advocate and journalist Israel Bayer.

Bayer, the longtime executive director of the weekly paper Streetroots, pressed the county to track deaths of homeless people. He says his goal was to honor the dead and to compel people to take action to help end homelessness.

“Given the fact that dozens of people are dying on our streets every year, it shows that homelessness remains an emergency situation that we have to be able to prioritize,” Bayer said.

Bayer says the latest report reveals “the scale of the poverty that is affecting our sisters, fathers, mothers and neighbors.”

The report is based on data gathered by the Oregon State Medical Examiner and the Multnomah County Medical examiner. Those agencies investigate suspicious or unattended deaths, including accidental or violent deaths or overdoses.

The county health department does further research into cases the medical examiner flags as people who were likely homeless.

“It does not capture all deaths among people who were homeless, such as those who died in a hospital of natural causes. As a result, it is almost certainly an undercount,” the report notes.  

Ninety-one deaths in 2016 were initially coded “domicile unknown” by the medical examiners.  

Reviewers ultimately confirmed 80 of those deaths as people who were experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County.

Eleven cases were excluded from the county’s official tally and analysis.

Those included six people that reviewers determined were likely not homeless, three who records indicated died in Multnomah County but were transient in another county, and two infant or fetal deaths with mothers who likely were transient in another county.

The Domicile Unknown project has identified 359 deaths in Multnomah County since the first report in 2011.

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Health Report Due This Month Delayed As Bullseye Glass Launches Federal Case

The Oregon Health Authority is pushing back release of a public health assessment on airborne hazards in the vicinity of the southeast Portland production headquarters of Bullseye Glass.

The assessment, scheduled for release this month, was delayed as the company’s attorneys prepared to file a $30 million lawsuit against Oregon.

A Dec. 8 letter from the Oregon Health Authority to community partners notified them that the key health report, promised for early- to mid-December, would be pushed back for a “significant extension” until sometime in 2018.

OHA, working with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, has spent more than a year gathering air, soil and water data to monitor health risk in the area near Bullseye's southeast Portland headquarters.

One of those data sets included air samples from October 2015, as part of a study by the Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Forest Service. The study's goal was to determine whether moss can tell scientists more about toxins in the air. It was that same study that set off alarm bells about heavy metals near Bullseye and other industrial companies in Portland.


After obtaining draft versions of the health assessment via a public records request, Bullseye’s attorneys are planning to challenge the draft. OHA has since promised to review the data because of a potential error.

Oregon DEQ spokeswoman Laura Gleim said the standard procedure is to compare the filters holding field samples with blank filters carrying no sample material. If the metal amounts are similar, the samples may not be enough to show a correlation.

That comparison wasn’t done for the October 2015 samples.

In this case, two of the eighteen filters showed significantly more chromium than the blank filters. Still, Gleim said, DEQ is confident the samples related to Bullseye are accurate.

Bullseye Vice President Jim Jones said there was no relationship between the timing of the company’s queries to OHA and the federal court filing.

“Data was used by government agencies in a rush to judgement based on faulty science,” Jones said.

OHA’s letter indicated that only chromium pollution data collected in October 2015 is under scrutiny, it also warns the draft health report in circulation “should not be relied on for any purpose.”

The state will now take on a review of whether the data should remain in the report. That means Portlanders who live in the area and are anxious to see the full report will have to wait a bit more.

OHA said it hopes to publish the full health assessment sometime next year.

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Trauma Among Foster Kids Leads To Health Issues In Later Life

People who experience trauma and end up in foster care are more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions later in life, according to a new study.

Researcher Keri Vartanian, with the Providence Center for Outcomes Research and Education, said the fact that foster kids experience trauma isn’t surprising.

“What we found surprising was the extreme prevalence of trauma in this population," she said. "Every single measure of adversity that we looked at in childhood was significantly more prevalent in the foster care population.”

Vartanian's study found half of the kids who were in foster care at some point reported physical, verbal or sexual abuse. They also reported being far from prepared to live on their own afterwards.

The study also found they were more likely to experience poor physical health, mental illness, food insecurity and housing problems.

A spokeswoman with Oregon's Child Welfare office said the report does not include date from children currently in foster care, so it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment.

The Portland area coordinated care organization Health Share commissioned the report, saying it’s trying to improve care for people who’ve been through the foster care system.

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Referendum Could Put Healthcare Of 350K Oregonians In Jeopardy, Group Says

Opponents of a recent Oregon bill to fund healthcare through a new tax submitted signatures Thursday to get a referendum against the tax on the ballot.

The group of Republican lawmakers opposing the tax submitted many more than the need 58,789 signatures to put Referendum 301 on the ballot.

It’ll be a while before the state has verified the signatures, but even supporters of the tax believe the referendum will make it to the ballot.

“We’re expecting that signatures will be filed [Thursday],” said Meg Niemi, president of SEIU Local 49, which wants to see the funding continue. “We would see it as a victory if they weren’t. But we are expecting that signatures will be filed to qualify Referendum 301.”

A referendum would give Oregon voters the chance to vote on the healthcare funding bill passed by lawmakers early this year. House Bill 2391 was designed to maintain insurance for more than 350,000 low-income people.

The bill generates the money to pay for expanded Medicaid coverage in Oregon by imposing a $670 million tax on health insurers and providers, many of whom supported the idea in the Legislature.

The tax would also fill a large portion of the state’s 2017-19 budget hole. Opponents of the bill say it will increase health care costs in the state.

Karen Escobar is a Medicaid recipient from The Dalles. She has bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. At a rally in Portland Thursday, she said without medication she’s suicidal and can’t even boil water, because she forgets what she's doing.

“The doctors prescribe medication, Medicaid pays for it. And I’m able to live on my own," she said. "Without that, I don’t know where I’d be."

Escobar is hopeful that people will vote in favor of keeping the funding package.

West Linn Republican Rep. Julie Parrish launched the statewide effort to derail the tax soon after H.B. 2391 passed.

She said voters deserve the right to decide whether to shift costs for “a failing program.” Parrish also said she doesn’t like the idea of hard-wiring health care taxes into the law.

At this point the referendum wouldn’t mean all the taxes raised by H.B. 2391 would end, but about $330 million is on the line. If the referendum does get to voters, it’s not easy to understand. For example here’s the title as it stands:

“Provides funds currently budgeted to pay for healthcare for low income individuals and families and for stabilizing health insurance premiums, using temporary assessments on insurance companies, some hospitals and other providers of health insurance or health care coverage.”

A "yes" vote would approve the tax. A "no" vote would save money, but put the health insurance of 350,000 Oregonians in jeopardy, according to the tax supporters.

“They absolutely could be kicked off completely,” said Patty Wentz with the health care coalition.

“We’ve done it in the past. There’s no reason to think we wouldn’t do it again. Oregon used to have a health care lottery where we would draw names to determine who would have health care," Wentz said. "There’s no reason to think we wouldn’t go back to that if we didn’t have the funding.”

If Parrish’s signature gathering is successful, H.B. 2391 would automatically go on hold until a vote in January 2018.

The Legislature pulled the vote to January, instead of November 2018, because the earlier ballot gives lawmakers a chance to react in the February session if necessary.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the number of valid signatures needed to qualify Referendum 301 for the ballot.

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Oregon's Transgender Population Reacts To Trump's Military Ban

Oregon’s transgender population is reacting Wednesday to news that President Donald Trump will ban them from serving in the U.S. military.

Basic Rights Oregon calls the move disgraceful. 

"Thousands of patriotic transgender Americans already serve in our military and are putting their lives on the line to keep us safe and defend our American values,” Executive Director Nancy Haque said.

“There is no place for discrimination in our military," she said.  "Discharging talented service members simply because of their gender identity is wrong.”

There are an estimated 15,500 transgender people actively serving in the military, according to the Williams Institute.


But like any group, there’s more than one point of view.

Jamie Shupe is non-binary — that is neither male nor female.

Shupe served as a U.S. Army tank mechanic for 18 years, in locations all over the world including Kuwait, Bosnia and Germany. 

Shupe says including transgender people in the military was doomed to fail because it’s unfair — for example, if a male Navy Seal transitions to female, they would become the first female Navy Seal in history.

Shupe says it also puts the military on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in transition costs per person and would take a lot of time out of deployments.

“They’re never going to respect somebody who’s off getting a genital surgery while they’re sitting in a bunker in Afghanistan. It breaks down cohesion, it’s not fair,” Shupe said.

Trump wrote on Twitter that the military must be focused on overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with disruptions. “After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”

“After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”

The Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs issued a statement saying it honors the contributions of all those who have served and continue to serve in the military, regardless of gender identity.

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