When people are serious about a problem, they want to know how big it is and how bad it is. Homicides and suicides are tracked in Deschutes County. Cases of COVID-19 are tracked.
You can even find numbers about how many lost pets were reunited with their owners.
But how many homeless people die every year here?
There’s no official count. Why not?
It’s not that people don’t care. People do. People volunteer. Churches, veterans, nonprofits and more take action. There are shelters. Government gets involved, too. Deschutes County has a homeless outreach program.
Bend is gearing up to start its own homeless task force and perhaps create a temporary homeless camp at Juniper Ridge.
Multnomah County has a formal government process to capture how many people die homeless. Deschutes County does not.
Is it necessary for Deschutes County to do it? Maybe not. Maybe there are other priorities that are more critical.
A number, though, could focus attention. It demonstrates a commitment to do more and to better understand.
The Homeless Leadership Coalition does do its best to try to track the number. The information comes in mostly through service provider reports. This year, the number HLC has come up with so far is 12. HLC plans to hold a memorial on Dec. 21. Who were they? What happened?
One individual was David Melvin Savory, 57, a double amputee. He couldn’t get into a shelter. He couldn’t get into a hotel. He died on a cold night near a dumpster on Third Street.
He had committed crimes, mostly trespass and theft. That doesn’t mean he deserved to live on the street or die there.
Homelessness is not a cause of death. It can be a contributor. If we understood better how often homeless die here, it would be easier for residents to judge if as a community we were satisfied we were doing enough.