NEWS RELEASE: Chair Vega Pederson declares emergency; County opens severe weather shelters Jan. 12 amid freezing temperatures

January 12, 2024

With forecasts showing what could be a days-long stretch of freezing temperatures, along with dangerous wind chills and the potential for snow, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson declared a state of emergency effective at 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 12.

Cold, wet and windy weather can be deadly for anyone spending a long time outdoors. Frostbite can happen in less than an hour when wind chills and temperatures are low enough.

That means — starting at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 12 — Multnomah County employees and four contracted service provider partners will open five severe weather shelters and add severe weather beds at an existing all-year shelter. Those additional 445 severe weather beds will remain open at least through tomorrow night, Jan. 13.

No one seeking shelter will be turned away. All sites will welcome pets and be accessible to people with disabling conditions. Free transportation to warming shelters will be available by calling 2-1-1 or through TriMet.

The County’s “Care for When It’s Cold” site at will post shelter hours, locations and any updates as conditions change. That page will also include information as it becomes available on how to support the sheltering effort.

The six sites available Friday, Jan. 12, are:

This interactive map shows places to to get warm during the day, including Multnomah County Library branches.

In addition, a recently opened overnight winter shelter at Portsmouth Union Church, funded by the Joint Office and operated by All Good Northwest, will switch to 24-hour operations. And the County’s Behavioral Health Resource Center is also adding capacity.

People in need can also ride TriMet to the shelters or to any warm space. TriMet will not turn away anyone traveling to or from a warm place who cannot afford to pay fare during the state of emergency.

Multnomah County will issue a daily announcement to the public and media about continued severe weather operations for the duration of the emergency. A formal decision on continuing operations overnight Saturday, Jan. 13, for example, will be shared Saturday morning. 

The County began severe weather operations Tuesday, Jan. 9, when the Joint Office of Homeless Services expanded outreach to people experiencing homelessness, with scores of partners distributing cold-weather gear to people camping in all parts of the County. 

As of Jan. 12, providers and nonprofits have been working to distribute 1,560 hand warming packs, 312 hoodies, 312 pairs of sweatpants, 1,560 ponchos, 936 warm hats, 1,080 pairs of warm gloves, 1,740 pairs of socks, 1,560 wool blankets, 1,544 tarps, 385 tents, 385 sleeping bags, 1,560 mylar blankets, and 25,656 water bottles.

The Department of County Human Services also prepared in advance, reaching out to older adults and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. That work includes:

  • Direct outreach to vulnerable clients in partnership with community-based organizations.
  • Service and resource connection with houseless community members. 
  • Contingency plans in case of power outages or other matters impacting most vulnerable clients.

Multnomah County Transportation’s Road Maintenance Division — will also be in 24-hour operations starting noon Friday, Jan. 12, through 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 15. The County largely serves rural roads and some arterials. Learn more about the County’s snow and ice plan here.

Warming shelters and free transportation

County employees, along with Do Good Multnomah, Cultivate Initiatives, Transition Projects, and All Good Northwest, will staff the six severe weather shelter sites, which have a combined capacity of about 445 beds.

Severe weather shelter beds will open 8 p.m. Friday and remain open during the day on Saturday, Jan. 13. Officials are planning for the days ahead, and additional shelter sites are being prepared to open on additional nights as long as thresholds are met.

For up-to-date information on which sites are open, visit the County’s Care for When It's Cold webpage.

People planning to use TriMet to get to a warming shelter should check for routes and let the driver they are headed to a warm place.

Please note that starting Sunday, Jan. 14, TriMet’s Gateway Transit Center will be closed to train service. MAX Blue, Green and Red lines will also be disrupted, due to construction on TriMet’s ongoing Better Red MAX Extension and Reliability Improvements Project.

Service on all Blue and Green MAX lines will be reduced and the Red line will not operate at all. Shuttle buses will serve stations between N.E. 7th Avenue and E. 102nd Avenue, Gateway Transit Center and Portland International Airport, and Gateway Transit Center and S.E. Main St. More information is at

Dress warmly and expect longer travel times as trips through the disrupted areas may take an extra 30 to 60 minutes, require transfers between buses and trains, and may lead to longer waits. Check for schedules and service alerts.

Thresholds for severe weather shelter

This year, Multnomah County officials — in consultation with County Emergency Management, the Health Department, County Human Services, the Joint Office and National Weather Service experts — are charged with determining when conditions are met to open severe weather shelters.

The thresholds the County uses were first developed and used by the City of Portland, before the Joint Office was created, when the City served as the lead agency providing severe weather shelter for adults experiencing homelessness.

Severe weather shelters open as needed when any of the following thresholds are met for any one of the conditions below that are forecasted to persist for four (4) hours or more between the hours of 8 p.m. and 7 a.m.:

  • Forecasted temperature of 25° F or below.
  • Forecasted snow accumulation of 1 inch or more over a 24-hour period.
  • Forecasted temperature at or below 32° F (0° C) with 1 inch or more of rain.

A fourth threshold was added by County leadership this year:

  • The County's Chief Operating Officer or their designee may consider other conditions or circumstances during a severe weather event that could increase the risk to the community and activate elements included in this standard operating procedure.

Even when severe weather thresholds aren't met — but when overnight temperatures are forecast at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below, for roughly four hours or longer — the Joint Office issues a "cold weather advisory."

This advisory triggers expanded outreach to deliver cold-weather gear; providers also share information on resources and system shelter capacity. Overflow shelter capacity is made available to outreach workers, who can refer people in need.

Support people living outside

If you see someone about whom you are concerned during cold weather, such as an individual who is not dressed warmly enough for the weather conditions, call the City of Portland’s non-emergency response line at 503-823-3333 and request a welfare check.

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

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

Stay informed and check on neighbors

Emergency managers and the Multnomah County Health Officer are advising all community members to get ready. Check on your neighbors: Please knock on the door, make the call, let people know if you’re going to the store and ask how you might help.

Care for When It’s Cold: Up-to-date information from Multnomah County on shelters, safety and support. Up-to-date info on weather conditions, available resources, where to find the nearest available shelter and transportation options. You can also find out where you can donate winter weather items to those who need them. Sign up for Severe Winter Weather alerts via email or text by going to 211info’s sign-up page.

National Weather Service: Check weather warnings in the Portland Metro area.

Public Alerts: Sign up to get emergency alerts about safety concerns in your area.

TriMet Alerts: Check for winter weather advisories.

ODOT TripCheck: The Oregon Department of Transportation TripCheck site updates Oregon road conditions and streams live roadside video