Citizens of Portland, Oregon are reeling after learning a newborn, birthed by a local homeless woman, died following the harsh ice storm that pounded the city.
Early on the morning of January 9th, Portland authorities dispatched officers after a 911 call reported a disheveled woman walking barefoot on the cold sidewalk, who had reportedly shown a newborn baby to a man as he was on his way to work. That morning saw temperatures dip to the low thirties, just a day after an ice storm had pummeled the city.
According to the Willamette Week, a local paper, officers texted each other about the baby, and learned it had been born mere hours before the 911 call, somewhere in a local homeless encampment. There appeared to be no complications during the birth, but the below-freezing temperatures made time an important factor in getting the newborn transported to the nearest health services location, Oregon Health and Science University Hospital. At least three health officials who had seen the child said the newborn was alive and breathing, and had a chance of survival.
“Baby is conscious and breathing okay, but has been outside this entire time,” a first responder’s text message read. “Baby is ice cold.”
The babe lived for less than twenty-four hours and was never named. The newborn’s mother was a 34-year-old homeless woman, who was described by an interviewing officer as, “very mentally ill.” Allegedly the woman struggled to answer simple questions, such as where she was from or where she had the baby. When asked about the child’s conception, she responded by describing it as, “by the miracle of immaculate conception.”
For twenty-five minutes two pediatric emergency room doctors attempted to revive the baby, though they ultimately were unsuccessful. Both told the state medical examiner that the baby was “viable,” meaning with proper care it would have survived, even though it had born after thirty-two weeks, making it a premature birth by about one month. The attending pediatric physicians, Dr. David Sheridan and Dr. Sarah Blackmon, both told the investigating officer, Detective Robert Harley, that the baby was not stillborn, which the state medical examiner, Dr. Karin Gunson, concluded after performing an official autopsy. Her official report concluded the cause of death was due to exposure.
Under Oregon state law, if a child’s cause of death is exposure, officers are required to investigate. Stillborn babies however, are not required to undergo any investigation at all. According to Portland PD spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson, the newborn’s death wasn’t reported to the public immediately because they were waiting on an official cause of death from the state medical examiner. Detective Harley’s report had stated the baby was stillborn.
Though not even a month has passed in the new year, already Portland has had four homeless citizens die by hypothermia. That averages out to a homeless person freezing to death about every four days. So far Portland has seen more deaths related to hypothermia in less than three weeks than over the last five years.
The first homeless citizen to be claimed by the cold was 68-year-old David Guyot, found at a bus stop before being pronounced deceased on the first of the year. Mark Elliott Johnson, fifty-one, was found a day later, dead on the sidewalk. Zachary A. Young, a 29-year-old mentally ill man, was found dead in some woods on January 10th. The most well-known victim was Karen Lee Batts, fifty-two, who made national news after dying of exposure after being evicted from her building over $338 in late rent.
At the moment Portland finds itself with a sizeable shortage of affordable housing. According to the Portland Housing Bureau, there has been an average rise in the price of rents by thirty-four percent between 2010 and 2015.