Dec. 22: Seeking shelter volunteers and acts of generosity as severe weather approaches

Dear friends and neighbors,

It appears that this historically difficult year seems intent on sending our community off into the new year with one final challenge. The especially cold and wet winter weather that experts predicted weeks ago is on its way. According to the latest forecasts, our region is facing an extended period of snow and frigid temperatures, starting this weekend and worsening next week. Those are conditions that bring a high risk of danger to our neighbors who are surviving outside without a home.

Multnomah County is actively planning for this bout of severe weather. We have been meeting every day since Tuesday with the National Weather Service, the cities of Portland and Gresham, TriMet, regional utilities companies and 211info. 

We plan to open severe weather shelters based on our confidence in the forecast to meet our thresholds. However, as of Wednesday afternoon, the forecast shows uncertainty around Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. While we anticipate knowing more after tomorrow morning’s joint call, we are continuing to push ahead to prepare shelter space and staffing.

Due to the timing and potential duration of this severe weather event, our most biggest need is for community members to volunteer at our severe weather shelters. Anyone interested in volunteering at these sites should register for a virtual orientation as soon as they can by visiting bit.ly/volunteerSWS. (The next orientation is Thursday, Dec. 23 at 2 p.m.) 

Links to sign up for specific locations and shifts will be available here once we have confirmed when our severe weather shelters will open. You can also keep an eye on the County’s social media channels (FacebookTwitter and Instagram) to find out when opportunities to sign up are available.

Since Monday, the Joint Office of Homeless Service has partnered with our own outreach workers, service providers, community-based organizations and mutual aid groups to distribute cold-weather sleeping bags, socks, tents and other supplies to people surviving outside. If you are interested in picking up supplies to distribute, schedule an appointment with the Joint Office’s supply depot by sending an email to JOHSsupplies@multco.us

You can also donate urgently needed winter gear. Find outreach providers’ supply wishlists, as well as links to purchase items online, at 211info.org/donations.

If you’re unable to volunteer, make a donation or distribute gear, there are still a number of ways that you can contribute to our community’s collective effort to care for our neighbors experiencing homelessness:

  • Check on your neighbors and loved ones regularly: If you see someone outside whose life appears to be in danger or is in an apparent medical crisis, call 911 to alert first responders. If you see someone you are concerned about but who may not be in imminent danger (like someone who isn’t dressed appropriately for the weather), call the non-emergency line at 503-823-3333 and request a welfare check. To help someone find shelter and arrange transportation to shelter during cold or severe weather, please call 2-1-1. Additionally, make a plan to check in on your neighbors and loved ones too — especially those who are older adults and people with disabilities.
  • Sign up to receive weather alerts: Start by signing up to receive alerts when the Joint Office declares a “cold weather” or “severe weather” advisory. Visit this link to sign up.
  • Share information: Calling 2-1-1 during severe weather is the quickest and most direct way to get the latest information about open shelters. People can also arrange a free ride to a shelter by calling 2-1-1. The line is open 24 hours a day in Multnomah County during severe weather.
  • Stay updated: Be sure to bookmark and visit Multnomah County’s “Care for When It’s Cold” webpage for all the latest information. 

The timing of this need, I know, isn’t ideal for many of us who may have been planning to celebrate the holidays safely with our loved ones. At the same time, being a part of meeting the most immediate needs of our neighbors when they are in harm’s way is a chance to integrate service, generosity and a tangible sense of community into what the holiday season can mean. Your choice to sign up to volunteer, donate or share information has the potential to save lives.

Thank you for considering this chance to step up, and show up, for our neighbors.

Please stay safe and stay healthy,

Deborah Kafoury
Multnomah County Chair