By Molly Harbarger | The Oregonian/OregonLive
on January 09, 2017 at 10:23 AM, updated January 10, 2017 at 6:27 PM
The 52-year-old woman who died of hypothermia on Saturday has been identified as Karen Lee Batts.
Public records show she was evicted from an apartment complex for low-income seniors in October. At the time of her death, she appeared homeless.
Batts was found in the Smart Park parking garage at 730 Southwest 10th Avenue. The Portland Police had been called because she was taking off her clothes and appeared to be struggling in the cold weather.
In some cases, people in the late stages of hypothermia undress because they feel extremely hot, due to nerve damage.
By the time police arrived, Batts was dead. Police said Saturday she likely died of exposure.
It is a fairly uncommon occurrence in Portland, where winters tend to be mild with short stretches of below-freezing temperatures.
In the last five years, hypothermia caused or contributed to five deaths of homeless people, according to Multnomah County. Eighty-eight people died on the street in 2015 in Multnomah County overall, mostly from either drugs and alcohol or diseases.
But the long cold snap of the past week has shown how dangerous freezing weather can be for people without shelter, especially people who aren't living or traveling in groups.
Homeless Portland Woman Who Died Suffered From Schizophrenia
by Amelia Templeton Follow OPB | Jan. 9, 2017 7:33 p.m. | Updated: Jan. 10, 2017 5:40 p.m.
A woman who died of hypothermia in a downtown Portland parking garage Saturday struggled for much of her life with schizophrenia. And she had been recently evicted from an affordable housing complex.
Karen Batts spent most of her childhood in Portland, and attended Grant High School. As an adult, she would at times become isolated because of her schizophrenia.
Her family said over the last year, Batts had stopped answering their phone calls.
“I’m so sad. It’s just, a parent isn’t supposed to lose a child,” Elizabeth Batts said of her daughter on Monday.
Batts said she didn’t learn until too late that her daughter Karen had been evicted in October and was living on the streets.
“Nobody reached out to us,” Elizabeth Batts told OPB. “Nobody cared about us to tell us what was going on. I mean, why couldn’t somebody tell us something.”
Batts said had she known her daughter was facing eviction, she would have paid her rent, as she has in the past.
As an adult, Alan Batts tried to watch over his sister. Last year, after she stopped returning the family’s calls, he tried to visit her at her apartment, but she wouldn’t buzz him in. So Batts asked the Portland Police to conduct a welfare check.
“They knocked on her door, and said she wasn’t a danger to herself or others, and so they couldn’t put her in a hospital. That’s what I requested, that she be admitted into the hospital,” he said.
Batts says his sister had been hospitalized once previously, and that the hospital stay helped stabilize her.
Once she was evicted, he said, it became impossible to find her. Batts says her illness made her fearful of others, and she said she’d been bullied at homeless shelters in the past.
“Our staff reached out to her repeatedly, had Project Respond come reach out to her, had adult protective services come and reach out to her,” said Martha McLennan, executive director for Northwest Housing Alternatives.
She said mental health workers evaluated Batts several times to see if she qualified for a mental health hold, but she did not meet the stringent criteria.
“I see situations not uncommonly, where the person who needs the help doesn’t know how to ask, or can’t ask, or is in no shape to have that realization and ask,” McLennan said.
She added that privacy laws often prevent the nonprofit from notifying family members when their tenets are facing eviction.
Batts is one of three people living on the street who have died of exposure so far in 2017. David Guyot, 68, and Mark Johnson, 51, also died of hypothermia this winter while living on Portland’s streets, according to the Multnomah County Medical Examiner’s Office.