Jennifer Drain, 33-year-old woman shot to death in Portland’s Old Town, was former foster child seeking housing, beauty amid suffering

The victim of a Thursday night shooting in downtown Portland was a 33-year-old woman experiencing homelessness whose quest to become housed was chronicled by The Oregonian/OregonLive just three months before she died.

Police on Monday identified Jennifer Drain as the woman who died near West Burnside Street and Northwest Sixth Avenue. People near the scene that night said they heard a single gunshot and that their friend had been shot once in the head. Police said Drain died of a gunshot wound but released no other information.

Drain is at least the fifth person experiencing homelessness to die from homicidal violence this year. She was also one of four people who died in downtown Portland shootings in the past week. A 19-year-old Portland State University student was fatally shot near the school’s campus April 4; fellow student Keenan Harpole, 20, was arrested on suspicion of murder. On Friday, a man died after being shot in the neck under the Burnside Bridge. And Sunday, a woman was killed and another injured after a shooting in the 1200 block of Southwest Clay Street.

Drain’s friends are mourning the death of the person they knew as flawed but kind, devoted to seeing beauty amid suffering and hardship.

Her favorite breakfast was biscuits and gravy. She had naturally dirty blond hair but loved to dye it bright red. She had a small dog that she loved proudly. Scrappy and independent, she navigated life on the streets using her watch, her wits, favorite songs on her phone and friendships with those she thought she could trust.

In the wake of her violent death, a vase of flowers stood outside her tent home – not a memorial, but a pop of beauty that friends said Drain often placed there to make living out in the elements feel homier.

Drain never lived an easy life.

She grew up in New Mexico and Utah before moving to Portland as an adult for a chance at a new start.

She entered the Utah foster system when she was 5 years old and aged out when she was 22. After years of transferring from one home to another, she said she felt like the state system just kicked her out the door one day. They offered her a Job Corps training program, but did not help her find housing or offer her other services.

She interned as a court clerk for the department of human services in Utah through the training program. She went to trade school twice – the first time to be a certified nurse assistant and the second time she received a culinary certificate. When her grandmother fell ill, she cared for her until she died.

In a full shot, a person to the left of frame walks toward the camera carrying several bags.  Behind them, to the right of frame, is a row of tents on the sidewalk

Jennifer Drain, 33, walks away from one of the areas sheÕs been staying on Thurs., Dec. 9, 2021. Drain is living on the street in downtown PortlandÕs Old Town.The Oregonian

But when she was 11, perhaps the biggest change of her life occurred – one of her foster brothers introduced her to meth.

“It was horrible,” she told The Oregonian/OregonLive months ago. “I got more abused and mistreated in foster care than I ever did from my own parents. The state said I was neglected and abused, which was why I was taken away, but I don’t think I was. My dad loved me, my mom hated me.”

Her biological father has since died. Her mother still lives in Texas.

Drain used methamphetamine during most of her life – after she was introduced to it as a child it was hard to untangle herself from it, she said. She got used to the way it helped her feel more energized and clear-headed.

Nearly a decade ago, she severely injured her back when she was run over by a snowmobile, she said. She was given prescription pain killers. The prescriptions eventually stopped coming but the pain did not stop, so she started taking opioids, which eventually led to heroin.

Drain was also diagnosed with a brain tumor. But because she experienced homelessness for years, she said she didn’t want to undergo surgery without having somewhere safe to recover. Her headaches persisted but the meth and opioids helped soothe the pain.

Three months before she was killed, Drain said she wanted help accessing housing and supportive services. She said she never came in contact with outreach workers who help unsheltered people access support. She said she likely wouldn’t have been able to make it through the arduous steps to get housing on her own – addiction had been part of her life so long, she wasn’t sure if she was strong enough to do it.

The week before she died, she was packing up her belongings with a plan to move back to where some of her family members lived, according to friends who lived unsheltered near where she did. Her friends asked to be anonymous out of fear of additional violence.

The women knew Drain wasn’t perfect, but they loved her with all her flaws. They talked about how they were worried that the “little blue pills,” which are fake oxycodone pills indistinguishable from the prescription version, often laced with deadly fentanyl, were making Drain not act herself over the past week.

On Friday morning, hours after Drain was shot to death, two friends were carefully packing up Drain’s personal items in hopes of giving them to one of Drain’s family members.

The two women quickly grabbed a camp chair for another friend who sobbed and shook uncontrollably. She said Drain was her best friend.

The friends murmured about what could have caused someone to target Drain – was it the fact that she witnessed two other recent shootings? Was it because she owed someone $5? Was it because people thought she was feeding information to police? Did it have something to do with “the blues” fentanyl pills? No one knows.

But all three feared what continued violence could bring.

Portland has recorded 29 homicides so far in 2022 — two more than the city had experienced at this point last year.

At least 92 people were killed in Portland homicides in 2021, shattering the city’s previous record of 70 homicides in 1987.

Staff reporter Savannh Eadens contributed to this story.

Nicole Hayden reports on homelessness for The Oregonian/Oregonlive. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Nicole_A_Hayden.

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