NEWS RELEASE: County serves record number of people in severe weather shelters during ice, snow and sub-freezing temperatures

January 17, 2024

Over the course of eight days, Multnomah County served a record number of community members affected by the freezing temperatures, snow and icy weather that bore down on the region, with a focus on life-saving efforts for vulnerable community members most at risk.

That response included opening more shelters than ever before and serving a record number of community members at those shelters, delivering more life-saving supplies to community members than ever before and working around the clock to keep roads safe. Partners helping to operate shelters included the State of Oregon and contracted nonprofit providers Cultivate Initiatives, Do Good Multnomah and Transition Projects. 

“This multi-day weather emergency was life-threatening and extremely challenging. It truly required all hands on deck, and I’m so impressed with and grateful for the response. So many people — County employees across every department and division, service providers, outreach workers, transport drivers and ordinary community members — stepped up again and again to support people in need,” said Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson. “I also know people were looking out for each other during this time, sharing their homes, meals, and warmth as folks faced loss of power. This is what our community standing together looks like.” 

The County opened 12 severe weather shelters, serving 1,269 people in one night at their peak. Pictured, the Friendly House shelter.
At the peak of the response, the County opened 12 warming shelters — a record number for the County, up 50% from the eight severe weather shelters opened in February 2023. What would have been a 13th site closed after opening last weekend because of a burst water main.

Even with two of the shelters temporarily experiencing power outages and the shelter closing due to a water main break, the County’s combined shelter and outreach response was able to maintain service and serve thousands of community members seeking respite from the cold.

During the peak of shelter operations overnight Tuesday, Jan. 16, the County served 1,269 people — the largest number of people served by the County in severe weather shelters.

Total people served by night:

  • Friday, Jan. 12: 344 guests
  • Saturday, Jan. 13: 821 guests
  • Sunday, Jan. 14: 1,136 guests
  • Monday, Jan. 15: 1,181 guests
  • Tuesday, Jan. 16: 1,269 guests (a record number of guests; previous peak during a severe weather event was nearly 1,000 guests on Dec. 23, 2022)

The Joint Office of Homeless Services also led a street outreach response that allowed the County to distribute more life-saving gear than in any other past severe weather activation. Starting Jan. 9, the County and the Joint Office expanded their coordination of street outreach and the distribution of cold weather supplies in Multnomah County, working with contracted outreach teams, community-based organizations, mutual aid groups and other partners. A record number of outreach teams provided full coverage to reach unhoused people across 37 geographic areas every day of the event.

Between Jan. 9-17, the Joint Office distributed 2,700 hand warming packs, 540 hoodies, 540 pairs of sweatpants, 2,700 ponchos, 1,620 warm hats, 1,764 pairs of warm gloves, 3,108 pairs of socks, 2,820 wool blankets, 2,430 tarps, 660 tents, 660 sleeping bags, 2,710 mylar blankets, and 46,656 water bottles — all of which went to outreach teams delivering supplies to people in need.

Additionally, the County supported the effort of transporting people to safe, warm locations. Since the emergency began on Jan. 9, the County transported 1,266 people to safety, including to shelters and motels. Among those transported included 86 people with pets, 40 who use wheelchairs and 41 families.

The County’s severe weather shelters encourage guests to bring their pets, and Multnomah County Animal Services provided supplies to shelters to make this possible — including 500 pounds of dog food, 105 pounds of cat litter and more than 35 crates, along with cat food and pet waste bags.

The emergency response began Tuesday, Jan. 9, when the Joint Office of Homeless Services issued a Cold Weather Alert that triggered its coordinated outreach efforts. The Department of County Human Services also launched aggressive outreach on Jan. 9, making 160 calls to residents considered vulnerable and 500 partner organizations, in 13 different languages.

On Friday, Jan. 12, Chair Vega Pederson declared a state of emergency effective at 5 p.m. that day. On Tuesday, Jan. 16, she extended that to Wednesday, Jan. 17 at noon. That declaration is required for TriMet to be able to offer free transportation to shelters.

The County, with support from partners, began opening winter shelters on Jan. 12, starting with six shelter locations and eventually doubling to 12 within two days, by Jan. 14. Those shelters, including the would-be 13th site, were:

  • Imago Dei Church: 1302 S.E. Ankeny St., Portland, operated by Multnomah County
  • Charles Jordan Community Center: 9009 N. Foss Ave., Portland, operated by Multnomah County
  • Ascension Catholic Church: 743 S.E. 76th Ave., Portland, operated by Multnomah County 
  • Salvation Army: 5325 N. Williams Ave., Portland, operated by Multnomah County
  • Market Street Shelter: 120 S.E. Market St., Portland, operated by All Good Northwest
  • Cook Plaza: 19421 S.E. Stark St., Gresham, operated by Cultivate Initiatives
  • Friendly House: 1737 N.W. 26th Ave., Portland, operated by Do Good Multnomah 
  • Powell Shelter: 7332 S.E. Powell Blvd., Portland, operated by Transition Projects 
  • Freedom Foursquare Church: 660 S.E. 160th Ave., Portland, operated by Multnomah County
  • Multnomah County East Building: 600 N.E. 8th St., Gresham, operated by Multnomah County
  • State of Oregon Building: 800 N.E. Oregon St., Portland, operated by State employees
  • Bud Clark Commons: 650 N.W. Irving St., Portland, operated by Transition Projects and Multnomah County (open as shelter overnight only)
  • First Christian Church: 1314 S.W. Park Ave., Portland, operated by Multnomah County (closed operations due to broken water main)

Shelters stayed open through the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 17, when temperatures rose above freezing for the first time since this emergency descended, helping to finally melt the ice and snow. 

Since Jan. 12, more than 1,000 people — including community volunteers, as well as paid County staff — filled 1,250 shifts covering all aspects of shelter operations. Among the County workers filling shifts at all hours of the day were senior leaders including Chair Vega Pederson and several members of her staff, along with Chief Operating Officer Serena Cruz and Commissioner Jesse Beason. The heads of several County departments also worked shifts.

The necessity and urgency of this work was underscored by the fact that hospitals reported 67 visits for cold-related illness, which includes hypothermia and frostbite, along with 18 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, between Jan. 12-16. The Multnomah County Medical Examiner is also investigating four suspected hypothermia deaths.

On Saturday, Jan. 13 alone, 26 people went to the emergency room for cold-related illnesses — the highest daily count on record (going back to 2016). That day also saw the largest daily count on record of visits for carbon monoxide poisoning.


Multnomah County’s Transportation Division’s road maintenance team has been in 24-hour operations since Friday, Jan. 12 at noon, and will continue through 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18.

Crews have worked 12-hour shifts to plow and sand the County’s roads, which include rural roads and some arterials. The division has also responded to approximately 40-50 downed trees that have blocked a portion of the roads. Over the course of the emergency, the Transportation Division closed 16 roads and reopened five.

Behavioral Health

The Multnomah County Behavioral Health Resource Center remained open through the storm and helped people keep warm and connect to services throughout this event, including the 24/7 shelter beds operated by Do Good Multnomah and the day center operated by the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon.

And despite the treacherous wintry conditions, the Behavioral Health Resource Center outreach van continued to operate to help vulnerable community members.