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Stillborn Portland infant highlights Oregon homeless problem

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A stillborn infant was found with his homeless mother at a street side bus stop during unusually cold weather. And while the infant's death was not blamed on below-freezing temperatures it has driven home just how ruthless this winter has been for Portland's homeless population, with four recent deaths attributed to exposure.

The infant was found Jan. 9 after emergency responders were called about a woman standing in the cold with a baby. The Multnomah County Medical Examiner's Office said Tuesday that the baby boy was stillborn.

The mother was unable to provide investigators with coherent information, including where she had been living, and is undergoing a mental health evaluation at a hospital, said Sgt. Pete Simpson, spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau.

"In the bigger umbrella of people who are vulnerable, it is an awful reminder of people living in the community who are sometimes hidden away that don't have shelter or medical care, or in this case, the mental capacity to seek medical care," Simpson said.

The infant's death was first reported Monday by Willamette Week, a weekly Portland newspaper, after four homeless adults died this month, which has brought snow, ice and bone-chilling temperatures to a city more accustomed to mild temperatures and rain.

The deaths occurred during the first 10 days of 2017. The first was a 68-year-old homeless man taken to a hospital on New Year's Day. The others were a 51-year-old man found dead under a blanket at the doorway of a business, a 52-year-old woman with schizophrenia discovered in a parking garage and a 29-year-old man whose body was found in woods where he had been living.

The frigid spell that has gripped the Portland area since December is the second-coldest since 1941. The average temperature between Dec. 1 of last year and Jan. 13 of this year was 34.8 degrees, says the National Weather Service. The temperature plunged to 13 degrees last Friday and a snow storm brought a rare foot of snow to some parts of Portland.

Normal temperatures for Portland in January are in the 40s and high 30s.

"Fifteen straight days of snow, ice and wind has clobbered us and no one has suffered more than the people who live outside," Julie Sullivan-Springhetti, a spokeswoman for Multnomah County, said in an email. "The level of discomfort and danger to people who are homeless is unprecedented."

The four deaths have occurred as Portland grapples with a problem of people who are chronically homeless. A single-day survey in 2015 counted nearly 1,900 people in Portland without shelter.

It is unclear whether those numbers are now up, down, or about the same. But Sullivan-Springhetti said the winter weather has increased usage of emergency shelters.

"Since the bad weather, about 750 have come inside," she said.

Transients are drawn to Portland because of its normally moderate weather and because of the city's welcoming reputation.

But rapidly rising housing costs in Portland have made it even more difficult for people with limited means to find an affordable place to live.

The city's new mayor, Ted Wheeler, has set finding solutions to Portland's housing crisis as a top priority.

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