Unusually frigid winter conditions in Portland, Oregon have led to the deaths of four homeless people, according to authorities.
Portland – which has seen housing costs soar over the past two decades as the city has increasingly turned into a cultural and economic hub – has been struck with record snowfall, throwing city administrators and inhabitants used to temperate weather off balance.
The effects on the homeless population have been lethal. In the first ten days of 2017, four individuals have died from exposure, including Karen Lee Batts, a 52 year-old woman who lost her apartment because she owed $338 in unpaid rent.
Ted Wheeler, the city’s progressive mayor, has announced plans to use administrative buildings as homeless shelters during weather emergencies. Wheeler explained the importance of such measures in terms of the recent spate of fatalities:
Any loss of life is unacceptable. This is a wealthy nation and we’re a prosperous and progressive community…Gone are the days when a west coast mayor can be content with filling potholes and making sure the streets are safe. Now it’s about addressing the large issues facing America.
Other cities have pursued similiar measures to protect those most vulnerable to extreme weather conditions. In Philadelphia, the city’s Office of Homeless Services exercises a set of emergency protocols that fall under “Cold Blue,” which enable police to pick up homeless people and transport them to government buildings set up as temporary shelters.
According to city authorities in Philadelphia, many individuals refuse, especially those who suffer from chronic homelessness.
The discrepancy between the size of homeless populations and the availability of empty spaces has generated debate on how best to provide housing for those who need it most. Across the United States, some estimates pin the number of empty houses to homeless around six-to-one, an astonishing statistic that calls for further contemplation on how best to tackle homelessness.