PORTLAND — City of Portland and Multnomah County officials — in consultation with officials from Emergency Management, the Health Department, County Human Services, the Joint Office of Homeless Services, and the National Weather Service — jointly closed severe weather warming shelters Sunday, Feb. 26, as temperatures warm in the metro area.
While thresholds were not met to open severe weather warming shelters Sunday night, Feb. 26, the County, City and its many partners continue to prepare for potential fresh rounds of inclement weather currently forecast for the week.
Nearly 850 people sought shelter across seven shelter sites at some point on Friday, Feb. 24, as the region pushed through four nights of inclement weather that began Wednesday with surprise record snowfall that shattered an 80-year record. More than 740 people received free transportation to a shelter that night, not including anyone who took TriMet.
As conditions improved Saturday, demand for shelter was reduced even as capacity remained the same. Over 490 people sought shelter across seven sites at some point Saturday night, with 174 people receiving free transportation.
At the onset of the storm, Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler declared and eventually added to their initial states of emergency. Oregon Governor Tina Kotek also issued a state of emergency for Multnomah County Saturday ahead of the potential for more inclement weather this week.
Even amid the surprise conditions, four severe weather warming shelters offering 500 beds opened Wednesday night at the peak of the snowfall, with over 300 guests seeking respite from the cold. As frigid temperatures and precipitation persisted, additional day and nighttime warming centers were opened Thursday and Friday to meet the growing need for warm and safe places to be.
By Friday, seven severe weather warming centers had opened in Multnomah County, including the Lloyd Center — which was used as an overnight sheltering space for the first time ever.
Total shelter use by night:
- Wednesday: 320 people
- Thursday: 656 people
- Friday: 849 people
- Saturday: 492 people
“I’m so impressed with the incredible dedication and teamwork that supported our shelter activation. At its core, all the work of opening, operating and supplying seven sites, including new spaces at Lloyd Center and Cook Plaza in Gresham, was about saving lives,” Chair Jessica Vega Pederson said. “I appreciate everyone who was a part of our response so much, from our County staff, to our partner organizations to the community members who took time out to show up and volunteer. This kind of community effort is what it takes."
As severe weather warming shelters closed for the time being Sunday morning, the City and County provided gear, as well as transportation and navigation to other warm locations during the day. The County’s Behavioral Health Resource Center and all Multnomah County Library branches are open regular hours today, with the exception of Midland and Holgate libraries, which are closed for construction.
Lloyd Center will also remain available as a daytime warming option for all members of the public today.
The winter storm created dicey travel conditions throughout the region — shuttering roads and forcing many drivers to abandon their cars. Some shelter staff even slept there themselves early in the storm to ensure operations could continue.
The County and City and 211info received the most requests for transportation to a warming center than any other previous severe weather event. Yet throughout the duration of the storm, no one seeking shelter was turned away.
Gratitude to volunteers, community partners and staff
Staff, community partners and volunteers stepped in as demand for warm spaces continued to grow. Throughout the historic weather event, the County and City renewed calls for volunteers and the community answered.
In total, 85 community members took shifts supporting shelter operations, including Portland’s Neighborhood Emergency Team volunteers and the County’s Medical Reserve Corps volunteers. More than two-dozen state employees also participated.
The community’s combined work, alongside service providers and more than 300 County and City employees, helped save lives during this prolonged weather event.
As our community continues to face severe weather events, we may again ask for volunteer help to keep our warming shelters open. Volunteers are encouraged to sign up for a 2-hour online training before their shift, if possible. Register for the training here. Information about signing up to volunteer will be posted on the County’s Care for When It’s Cold page when shifts become available.
Cultivate Initiatives and Do Good Multnomah led operations at three of the seven shelter sites, with their staff serving night and day, some of them sleeping at shelters themselves when roads made travel too difficult last week.
Community partners such as Friendly House, the Salvation Army, Imago Dei Church and Lloyd Center stepped up with spaces that allowed operations to expand to meet the growing need as snow lingered last week and cold temperatures worsened.
Portland Parks & Recreation also provided two community centers as shelter sites, supplying staff and Park Rangers to support the work. City of Gresham officials helped expedite the opening of the County-owned Cook Plaza on Saturday. Multnomah County Facilities helped support another County-owned site, Arbor Lodge.
Multnomah County Library employees offered their branches as safe daytime spaces over the weekend.
211info fielded a flood of calls for information and transportation, receiving hundreds of requests a night, and working with City and County ground transportation drivers and ride-share companies to help hundreds of people safely reach shelters even when roads were still difficult. City/County ground transportation, facilitated by the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, also picked up people directly.
Outreach providers including Transition Projects, the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon, Central City Concern, JOIN and others helped deliver gear and offer information. They worked with Joint Office of Homeless Services staff to pick up supplies and cover the County.
Multnomah County Emergency Management, the Department of County Human Services, and the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management — supported by the Health Department, the Joint Office, County Facilities, and others — helped lead the response. Emergency management sets up and demobilizes sites, adding new ones as needed, and ensures they can remain supplied as events linger.
As of Sunday, Feb. 26, the Multnomah County Medical Examiner has reported one suspected hypothermia death under investigation during this emergency activation, occurring Wednesday, Feb. 22.
After historic high call volume, emergency medical or ambulance call volume slowed on Saturday to roughly 360 calls. Call volume exceeded over 400 daily calls since the start of the winter storm.
Emergency Management and Health officials continue to stress: if you’re experiencing an emergency or see someone whose life is in danger, call 9-1-1. Anyone seeking shelter can dial 2-1-1 for information on shelters and to request transportation to a shelter.
If you see someone about whom you are concerned during cold weather, such as an individual who is not dressed for the weather conditions, call the non-emergency response line at 503-823-3333 and request a welfare check.
Donations needed to help organizations replenish winter gear
Outreach teams will work this week to continue to make contact with vulnerable populations, providing resources and sharing information about severe weather and year-round shelters.
The Joint Office has been supplying outreach teams with winter gear to distribute, but providers also welcome direct community donations.
Because of the unforeseen snow and continued cold, and with more days of severe weather potentially in the forecast, donations to quickly restock supplies will be especially welcome in the coming days.
211info has a list of organizations in Multnomah County that are accepting donations of winter gear — including online shopping lists, so you can donate safely and quickly even if conditions make travel more difficult.
In addition to outreach efforts and the severe-weather beds that open only when certain weather thresholds are met, the Joint Office of Homeless Services provides year-round and winter shelter beds open every night. These beds are open day after day, no matter the forecast. Other community partners also add winter shelter capacity.
Stay informed and check on neighbors
Care for When It’s Cold: Up-to-date information from Multnomah County on shelters, safety and support.
211info.org: 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 it. Visit this link to sign up to receive Severe Winter Weather alerts via email or text.
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.##