Multnomah County, City of Portland declare state of emergency, announce shelters ahead of freezing weather

December 23, 2021

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury on Thursday declared a state of emergency for Multnomah County as the region braces for a prolonged stretch of freezing temperatures and snow. The declaration goes into effect Friday, Dec. 24 and extends through Jan. 3.

“This will give us the maximum ability to plan, contract and seek additional resources over what could be a very long cold snap stretching to the new year,” Kafoury said during a Thursday media event.

Portland's Houseless Strategies Manager Jake Dornblaser hauls sleeping bags for the winter shelter at the Mt. Scott Community Center, Dec. 24, 2021

Mayor Ted Wheeler also declared an emergency that begins at 8 a.m. Friday through Dec. 31 with the ability to extend as needed. Multnomah County, the City of Portland and the Joint Office of Homeless Services will open severe winter weather shelters beginning Saturday, Dec. 25 at 3 p.m.

“Portlanders often ask me ‘how can I be helpful?’ in an emergency like this,” said Commissioner Dan Ryan. “You can help by checking on your unhoused neighbor and referring them to 2-1-1 for shelter transport. You can help by checking on your elderly neighbors or neighbors with disabilities and shoveling their sidewalks—and by keeping your sidewalks clear. You can help by volunteering your time for a shelter shift—learn more at Multnomah County’s “Care for When It’s Cold” page. And you can help by donating supplies that will save an unhoused Portlander’s life at 211info.org/donations. Together, we can help to care for one another as a community during this holiday season.” 

Visit multco.us/cold for up-to-date information on shelter locations and hours. Anyone seeking shelter can dial 2-1-1 for the information on shelters and to request transportation to a shelter. TriMet will be fare-free for people who need to get to a warming shelter.

Community members are strongly encouraged to volunteer for shifts at these shelters. To view the virtual training and sign up for shifts, go to the Care for When it’s Cold Donations and Volunteering page.

Plan ahead

The National Weather Service is predicting snow and for temperatures to begin to drop as early as Christmas Day with biting cold and increasing chances of snow well into next week. Temperatures are expected to remain at or below freezing into the New Year. Heavy wet snow may weaken tree limbs and down power lines; and streets may become icy. Anyone with holiday travel plans or outdoor activities should monitor weather forecasts and travel safely.

Winter weather is especially dangerous for anyone experiencing houselessness and can also pose a greater risk for older adults and people with disabilities.

Our emergency managers and Multnomah County Health Officer are advising community members to get ready:

  • Plan ahead to have the prescriptions, food, flashlights and other necessities on hand.
  • Check on your neighbor. Please, please knock on the door, make the call, let people know you’re going to the store, and ask how you might help. 
  • Stay informed: Care for When it’s Cold. multco.us/cold will post the latest shelters, volunteer opportunities, and information on how to take care of your pet, where to get help.

Support people living outside

Beginning Monday, the Joint Office of Homeless began releasing severe weather supplies — 15-degree and mylar sleeping bags, wool blankets, large tents that all belongings to stay dry, socks, hand warmers, ponchos, warm hats and gloves.

By Wednesday afternoon, the Joint Office of Homeless Services had distributed 293 sleeping bags, 283 tents, 1,338 pairs of socks.this is only distributed from the distribution center. Nonprofit providers were also distributing winter supplies previously delivered to their sites. 

Among the 97 partners also distributing cold weather supplies include shelter operators, park rangers, Portland Police Bureau, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, Rapid Response and Clean Start, we have been distributing gear everywhere.

Cold weather supplies for distribution at a severe weather shelter, Dec. 23, 2021

Outreach workers and volunteers are checking on people living outdoors, but we urge residents who want to distribute supplies directly to people living outside in their neighborhood to make an appointment with the supply center. The Center will be open by appointment Dec. 24 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Dec. 25-26 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Email JOHSsupplies@multco.us (If you do not receive a prompt response please, email celeste.duvall@multco.us with the subject line “Supplies.” The JOHS supply center email address is experiencing intermittent technical issues as of Dec. 25)

To donate supplies to local nonprofits that are serving people experiencing homelessness, visit 211info.org for links to their Amazon wish lists.

“Local government is working hard to get people to a warm, dry place but we can’t be everywhere,” said Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines. “As with the heat event almost 6 months ago to the day, we are asking all county residents to check on others, direct individuals to warming shelters and help hand out gear to keep people warm - and alive.” 

If someone outside is unsheltered and whose life appears to be in danger, call 9-1-1. 

If you see someone about whom you are concerned during cold weather, such as not being dressed for the weather conditions, call Multnomah County’s non-emergency response line at 503-823-3333 and request a welfare check. 

To help someone locate shelter and transportation to shelter, please call 2-1-1.

Winter safety at home 

Multnomah County’s Office of Sustainability has been working with utilities and the Oregon Public Utility Commission to assure customers that their electricity and gas will not be disconnected for non-payment during the severe weather our region is forecast to see, starting this weekend. This specific moratorium begins the week of December 20 and lasts through Jan. 2, 2022.

Customers having difficulty paying their bills are encouraged to call: 

  • Pacific Power: 1-800-221-7070
  • Portland General Electric: 1-800-542-8818
  • Northwest Natural: 1-800-422-4012

Snow and ice might make travel difficult in the coming days. Prepare now by stocking up on extra food, and make sure you have enough medications and pet supplies to last a week or two. Visit Public Alerts to learn more about how to prepare and for a checklist of other supplies you might want to have on hand.

Stay safe when heating rooms in your home. Local fire departments report an uptick in families using space heaters to keep rooms warm. Alternative sources of fuel or electricity for heating or cooking can cause carbon monoxide to build up — in a home, garage, or camper — and to poison the people and animals inside.

Property owners or tenants are responsible for shoveling the snow and removing ice from in front of their homes and businesses. Check in with neighbors who might need a hand. Some elderly homeowners or people with disabilities may have physical challenges or risk injury in the snow and ice.

Key resources

  • 211 info: call 211 for information and transportation to shelters, and do
  • Crisis line: Dial 503-988-4888 anytime day or night to talk to a trained mental health professional, connect to behavioral health services or if you’re concerned about the mental wellbeing of another.
  • Non-emergency response: If you see someone about whom you are concerned during cold weather, such as not being dressed for the weather conditions, call 503-823-3333 to request a welfare check. 
  • Public Alerts: Sign up to receive alerts, learn how to prepare for winter storms and who to call for help.
  • National Weather Service: Check weather warnings in the Portland area before you travel.

TriMet: Check for service alerts before you ride