Severe weather shelters close; outreach continues through winter

January 2, 2022

Severe weather shelters closed today, Sunday, Jan. 2, at 8 a.m. Departing guests are being provided TriMet passes and cold-weather supplies. Outreach teams will continue to connect with vulnerable populations throughout the winter.

Anyone seeking alternative shelter options and other social and health services should dial 2-1-1. For updates and future severe weather shelter sites, please check back at multco.us/cold.

Last night four shelters — operated by Multnomah County, the City of Portland, Transition Projects and Cultivate Initiatives — hosted 302 people; that was about 62% of total capacity.

The Joint Office of Homeless Services, together with Multnomah County and the City of Portland, will continue to monitor conditions throughout the winter and open severe weather shelters when certain thresholds are met.

In addition to the severe-weather beds that open only when certain weather thresholds are met, the Joint Office of Homeless Services also funds more than 1,300 year-round and winter shelter beds open every night during the cold season. These beds are open day after day, no matter the forecast. Other community partners also add winter shelter capacity.

To help someone access shelter, dial 2-1-1.

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

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

Forecasts called for heavy snow, freezing temps

Multnomah County and the City of Portland declared a state of emergency Dec. 23 as the region braced for a prolonged stretch of freezing temperatures and snow.

Guests make themselves comfortable on the first floor of the Portland Building where a 24-hour warming shelter is operating, Dec, 2021 (Stephanie Yao Long, City of Portland)

Multnomah County, together with the Joint Office of Homeless Services, the City of Portland and community partners opened five shelters Dec. 25. The next day, Transition Projects opened a sixth shelter near OMSI in inner Southeast Portland. That night, the six shelters hosted 248 guests.

On Monday, Dec. 27, with temperature low and more people seeking shelter, Cultivate Initiative moved from Sunrise Center to Reynold’s High School to accommodate more than twice as many guests, and the Oregon Convention Center opened to accommodate guests who could not find a space in another shelter. 

By Dec. 30 the National Weather Services was predicting the worst had passed and better conditions were on the way. The severe weather shelters closed, although enhanced outreach continued. But an unexpected turn in the weather prompted the County, City and its partners to reopen four shelters on Dec. 31. Those shelters remained open until Sunday morning, Jan. 2.

The Multnomah County Medical Examiner’s Office has confirmed one death from hypothermia. The person who died on Christmas Day was housed, but was found outdoors.

Since shelters opened Christmas night, volunteers signed up to fill 1,443 shifts at seven locations. Of those, 345 were members of the public.

Throughout the cold snap, community nonprofits, mutual aid groups and housed neighbors alongside the Joint Office contracted outreach teams made 212 appointments at the Joint Office Supply Center to pick up cold weather gear to distribute to people who preferred not to go to a shelter, and arranging rides for anyone who opted to stay at a shelter. 

These teams distributed 5,479 sleeping bags, 5,939 blankets, 2,646 tents, 4,640 tarps, 3,930 ponchos, 7,277 hot hands, 5,698 gloves, 5,614 hats, 1,846 hoodies, 1,993 sweatpants and 9,808 pairs of socks.

Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice’s Mental Health Unit's Averyl Growden helps community members.

“The community came together. The Joint Office of Homeless Services in collaboration with Multnomah County Department of Human Services, Multnomah County Emergency Management and Portland Bureau of Emergency Management alongside of hundreds of our nonprofit partners and volunteers, came together to make this happen” said Celeste Duvall, Unsheltered Emergency Program Specialist with the Joint Office of Homeless Services.  “We set up 7 shelters equitably throughout the County, with the capacity of 700 beds for people to come into, with the ability to expand and we did it over two holidays.”

Duvall, like many other city and county employees, logged 16 and 18-hour days coordinating staffing, outreach and logistics. Staff worked mightily to recruit volunteers to meet minimum staffing levels so the region could keep its commitment to equitable, accessible severe weather shelters and that no one seeking shelter would be turned away.

Preparing for next time

For this winter, their work is just beginning. Duvall urged residents to take this break in the weather to get to know their unhoused neighbors and find out what they might need when freezing temperatures and snow returns. 

To get ready now to volunteer the next time severe weather shelters open their doors again. Anyone interested in volunteering at these sites can complete the first video listed in this virtual training: Get Really Prepared: Disaster Resource Center Videos. At a minimum, volunteers should watch the Portland NET/TPI Intro to Warming Shelters video.

Duvall urged those who have housing, to have compassion for those who do not; because no one deserves to die because of the weather outside. It’s that compassion, borne from her own experience, that drives her.

“I’ve been there. I’ve been homeless. There isn’t anything the people we serve are going through that I haven't been through. Today I sit in my nice warm house and walk to the fridge anytime I want, and I have clean clothes and a nice soft bed. Knowing thousands of people out there don’t,” she said early Sunday morning as she prepared for a long day of work. “If I can help one person, to even give them hope that they can end their homelessness,  it drives me every day to work my heart out.”