PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — On Tuesday, a person was confirmed to have died on Christmas Day from hypothermia after enduring the extreme cold, according to the Multnomah County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Officials said the person was found outside but was confirmed to be housed.
“This is a somber reminder that cold weather is dangerous for anyone outside who does not have the right gear to stay dry and warm,” said Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines. “If you see a person outside and have any concern they might be at risk in this cold weather, please check on them or call for help.”
According to the Oregon Health Authority, frostbite can turns skin red and numb people, so they can be unaware when it sets in. It happens when someone is wet and in cold temperatures.
Signs someone is experiencing hypothermia include shivering, confusion, slurred speech and drowsiness. Officials say symptoms of hypothermia are similar to signs someone is impaired from drugs or alcohol.
To avoid hypothermia and frostbite Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue suggests people go indoors periodically, along with wearing several layers.
“Especially watch your kids, because your kids could be really excited and just want to keep playing and playing and as that cold temperature starts to lower the body, our critical thinking skills aren’t quite there, and it can become an impairment,” said Heather Carpenter from TVF&R.
County officials say this raises their concerns about keeping the homeless safe, as many have now spent several days and nights out in this cold snap.
There are many outreach groups with boots on the ground making their way to camps and tents in the city and the outskirts of town.
Multnomah County Sheriff’s Sergeant Brian Gerkman and his partner are making sure people most at risk of hypothermia have what they need to survive this week.
“The most common thing is blankets, gloves, hats, hand warmers, socks,” Gerkman said.
Whether it’s right off the highway, or through fields and forest, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office homeless outreach team treks to those living outdoors in the most rural and remote parts town.
The HOPE team is working throughout this cold snap.
“We wanna be out there touching base with people, making sure that they know about the weather coming,” Gerkman said.
“We’re all susceptible certainly to hypothermia, especially in such cold weather again, alcohol and other substances will increase that risk,” Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines explained.
Without easy access to warm up and dry out, the Multnomah County Health Officer says people most at risk of hypothermia are the ones living on our streets.
That’s why the county has stood up numerous 24-hour warming shelters, but they still need more volunteers to keep them up & running.
To help, let MSCO know when you see camps pop up so the HOPE team can contact them, or donate your time and or warm weather supplies to the county.
HOW TO HELP
People who want to volunteer at a shelter can find lists to sign up at multco.us/cold. There’s a 10-minute training video to get people ready. We really need community support on this!
In addition to the Joint Office of Homeless Services, 97 partners are also distributing cold weather supplies. They include shelter operators, park rangers, Portland Police Bureau, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, Rapid Response and Clean Start.
People who want to distribute supplies directly to people living outside in their neighborhood can also make an appointment with the Joint Office supply center. Just email JOHSsupplies@multco.us.
To donate supplies to local nonprofits that are serving people experiencing homelessness, visit 211info.org for links to their Amazon wish lists.
Anyone with concerns for someone, such as not being dressed for the weather, is urged to call the non-emergency line at 503-823-3333 or 911.