NEWS RELEASE: Severe weather shelters serve 200 people in Multnomah County on Wednesday night

February 15, 2024

This morning, Multnomah County will close the five severe weather shelter locations that opened last night, reflecting current forecasts showing rising temperatures and no snow accumulation in the Portland area.

About 200 people stayed in the 480 additional severe weather beds Multnomah County and its contracted service provider partners opened last night.

The National Weather Service had forecast up to 3 inches of snow Wednesday night, albeit with significant uncertainty about how severe conditions might become, prompting Multnomah County to activate its shelter response out of an abundance of caution. 

The County worked with its staff and four nonprofit providers — Cultivate Initiatives, Do Good Multnomah, Transition Projects and All Good Northwest — to stand up four temporary emergency shelters, add beds at an existing shelter, schedule and provide training for volunteer and staff shifts, and launch coordinated street outreach to bring cold weather gear to people living unsheltered.

The County applied lessons learned from the January 2024 storm and its associated emergency response. That storm brought cold temperatures, ice and snow to the region for more than a week, with icy conditions continuing much longer than initially forecast by the National Weather Service. That activation, and after-action work done after, led to changes this time around, including:

  • Mobilizing a severe weather emergency response and opening shelters despite the uncertain forecast, preparing for a range of outcomes described in the weather forecasts.
  • Scheduling volunteer and staff shifts that went beyond when forecasts showed thresholds for shelters would no longer be met (today at 10 a.m.) to have personnel ready to go in case the severe weather lasted longer than expected. 
  • Reaching out directly to community members early in the activation to ask them to sign up for volunteer shifts, and offering a virtual “Just In Time” training to staff and community members yesterday afternoon to prepare them for volunteering at a shelter. These efforts resulted in 13 community members volunteering at shelters last night, with more signing up to volunteer on later days (shifts that are no longer needed). Eleven community members attended the training.
  • Working with our partners across jurisdictions, including the City of Portland, early in the activation to ensure they would be prepared to support operations if the event had lasted longer than expected.

As in the last activation, the County also ensured that security staff was present at all County-operated shelters.

In another new approach this activation, the Multnomah County Health Department offered on-site training to shelter staff and volunteers on how to administer naloxone, the opioid overdose-reversing medication. The Health Department, with support from the Department of Community Justice and Portland Fire & Rescue, distributed naloxone to all of the emergency shelters, and shelter guests will be able to take naloxone with them as they leave this morning. 

Even with shelters closing this morning, the Joint Office of Homeless Services is continuing its coordinated outreach work across the county today and Friday, Feb. 16, with a focus on replacing cold weather gear that might have been damaged in the wind and rain last night.

Yesterday, the Joint Office through its coordinated outreach work distributed 400 hand-warming packs, 80 sweatshirts, 80 pairs of sweatpants, 400 ponchos, 240 warm hats, 240 pairs of gloves, 480 pairs of socks, 480 wool blankets, 400 tarps, 100 tents, 100 sleeping bags, 400 mylar blankets, and 4,656 bottles of water.

The five emergency shelter spaces opened last night at 8 p.m. were:

  • Cook Plaza, operated by Cultivate Initiatives
  • Powell Shelter, operated by Transition Projects
  • Division Place, operated by Multnomah County
  • Imago Dei, operated by Do Good Multnomah
  • Market Street (overflow beds at an existing shelter), operated by All Good Northwest

The County, in partnership with 211info, also coordinated rides for 51 people needing transportation to severe weather shelters.

Volunteer trainings for community members

The County encourages community members interested in volunteering at future activations to learn more at this webpage, and to sign  up to hear about future training opportunities with this form.

Thresholds for severe weather shelter and other preparations

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 basic elements of the County’s thresholds 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 season:

  • 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.