Nov. 20: Winter preparations to shelter and care for our neighbors surviving outside

Scroll down for information on how you can help our neighbors this winter.

Dear friends and neighbors,

The run of frosty mornings and rainstorms that we’ve experienced over this last week are small previews of the kind of weather we can expect over the next few months. Forecasters are predicting a particularly wet and cold winter season, which means that our neighbors surviving outside and exposed to the elements will be at even greater risk.

We knew that meeting the most immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness this winter would be challenging, complicated even more by the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to present a threat to the health and safety of our community. That’s why the Joint Office of Homeless Services, in coordination with community partners and neighborhood groups, began planning for winter no more than a week after the summer heatwaves. We were sure to leverage the partnerships, experiences and lessons we’ve gained over the last several winters to build the most robust winter response we’ve ever had. 

And now, we’re better prepared not just for this winter, but for any other weather emergency that comes.

Yesterday, I joined other elected officials and community groups to share information about the plans we have in motion to help our houseless neighbors throughout the winter, and especially on the coldest and most harrowing nights. 

Severe Weather Shelters

The Joint Office declares “severe weather” when temperatures drop below 25 degrees, or when it’s below freezing and we see lots of rain or snow. This declaration triggers the opening of extra shelter locations to ensure everyone has access to a no-turn-away shelter. We also work to make sure that anyone who needs transportation to shelter can get a ride to a shelter, free of charge.

Last winter, our ability to offer no-turn-away shelters during these dangerous nights was seriously threatened by the pandemic. It was only through a herculean effort from the community and partners like Metro that we were able to guarantee warm, dry shelter when those conditions threatened people's health and safety. This year, thanks to vaccines, months of planning and a network of partners, there’s no uncertainty. Anyone who needs shelter during severe weather will be able to access no-turn-away shelter at one of the following severe weather shelters:

  • Imago Dei Church, in the inner eastside
  • The Salvation Army’s Moore Street center, in North Portland
  • The Sunrise Center, in Gresham
  • Mt. Scott Community Center, in southeast Portland (and other designated community centers as needed)
  • The Portland Building, in downtown.

211info will share alerts about shelter locations and hours, while our street outreach teams will work to reach people in need with information about shelters and cold weather gear. 

The number and distribution of these severe weather shelters will allow us to provide beds in more parts of the community than ever before, filling in geographic gaps that have made accessing shelter harder than it should have been for many of our neighbors. And if we need to open more sites to meet a higher need, we will be ready to do so. 

Seasonal Winter Shelters

And while these severe weather shelters are critical to our winter response, they are only a part of our system. The Joint Office’s seasonal winter shelters are open all season long, from November through April, every single night, no matter the temperature or weather conditions. These seasonal shelters are located at:

  • Walnut Park Shelter, located at 5329 NE Martin Luther King Blvd. (80 beds)
  • Downtown Winter Shelter (former Greyhound Station), located at 550 NW 6th Ave. (96 beds)
  • Arbor Lodge Winter Shelter, located at 1952 N Lombard Ave. (70 beds)

Ten additional winter-only beds will also be available through the Joint Office's youth shelter system.

The Arbor Lodge Winter Shelter is the newest addition to our system. Multnomah County used federal COVID-19 relief funding to purchase the building, a former Rite Aid, right before winter hit last year, as part of our efforts to ensure that our severe weather shelter beds could be as spread out and safe as possible. That opened up the opportunity to invest funding from the Supportive Housing Services measure into the Arbor Lodge renovations and its future operations as a permanent, year-round shelter.

While we have been working on designs and preparing for construction, the County has used the Arbor Lodge site for a number of critical and potentially life-saving purposes — not just as a severe weather shelter, but also as a cooling space during the summer heatwaves and as a hub to vaccinate community members.

And now, the Arbor Lodge Shelter will serve as a winter shelter every night through April, thanks to funding from the Supportive Housing Services measure and the State of Oregon. 

Outreach and Partnerships

During the winter months, our outreach workers go out day after day to bring life-saving gear directly to people braving the elements, drawing from the Joint Office’s stock of supplies, as well as supplies donated by generous community members. Their work is instrumental to meeting our neighbors experiencing homelessness where they are, and connecting them to life-saving information and resources.

I am also deeply grateful for the many partners whose work and collaboration have been critical to helping the Joint Office stand up or staff severe weather and seasonal shelters this year. You can find a list of these people and organizations at the bottom of this email. 

An Unquestionable Need, but Not the End

Because the County, the City, the Joint Office, community partners and neighbors all see the need for safety off the street, we are all pulling together in the same direction to support people surviving outside. That effort has resulted in having room for 2,000 people in shelters across Multnomah County on any given night this winter, and room for hundreds more on the worst nights. 

These shelters offer much-needed immediate safety and short-term stability, but they also serve as touchpoints of connection and services that help our neighbors experiencing homelessness move closer to permanent housing. That’s our ultimate goal for everyone who needs a shelter bed, and our work to help people find homes of their own will continue to expand and speed up thanks to the effective and urgent strategies boosted by our Supportive Housing Services funding and new mid-year emergency investments.

Please stay safe and stay healthy,
Deborah

How You Can Help

Share info: ​​People seeking shelter during severe weather should call 2-1-1 or go to 211info.org for the latest information on what shelters are open and to arrange rides. The 211 line is open 24 hours a day in Multnomah County during severe weather.

Sign up to get weather alerts: You can sign up to receive alerts when the Joint Office declares a “cold weather” or “severe weather” advisory at 211info.org/em-shelters#multnomah

Become a volunteer or donate winter gear: Both donations of winter gear and volunteering at severe weather shelters are critical to ensuring support and services throughout the winter. Learn more about becoming a severe weather shelter volunteer and donating the right cold weather supplies at multco.us/care-when-its-cold/winter-donations-and-shelter-volunteers

Check on your neighbors: 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 immediate danger, such as someone who isn’t dressed appropriately for the weather, call police non-emergency 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 211.

Lastly, be sure to bookmark and use Multnomah County’s “Care for When It’s Cold” webpage for all the latest information.

Thank you to the many partners who have supported our plans to stand up severe weather and seasonal shelters this winter:

  • Transition Projects, which has helped us operate severe weather shelters year after year, and Central City Concern, who help get the word out about shelter availability to those who need it most.
  • Cultivate Initiatives, one of our newest partners helping us offer accessible resources to people living in East County.
  • Our friends at Portland Parks & Recreation, who have generously provided spaces for shelter.
  • Do Good Multnomah, which stepped up to operate the new Arbor Lodge Winter Shelter, providing resources and connection at yet another winter shelter under their care, and especially deputy director Daniel Hovanas.
  • The many neighbors and neighborhood associations who have understood the need for winter shelters and have worked with us and supported our efforts to place shelters throughout our community, with special thanks to Terrence Moses and Tyler Roppe from the Kenton Neighborhood Association, Ginger Edwards from the Arbor Lodge Neighborhood Association, and Mary Jaron Kelley from North Portland Neighborhood Services.
  • Andrea Matthews, Jordanna McIntyre and Peter Tiso from the Joint Office of Homeless Services’ shelter team (Andrea also serves on the Arbor Lodge Neighborhood Association board)
  • Francesca Gambetti from Shiels Obletz Johnsen
  • Toni Weiner and Joanna Do from the Multnomah County Facilities and Property Management division
  • Chris McDowell from the Home Builders Foundation 
  • Partners from the City of Portland, including Terry Whitehill (Bureau of Development Services), Michelle Ladd (Facilities) and Kim Kosmas (Fire Marshal’s Office)
  • Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, whose district includes the Arbor Lodge Winter Shelter, along with her chief of staff, Sara Ryan, and her engagement specialist, Monique Smiley
  • Michael Miller from Carleton Hart Architecture, helping work on the design of the Arbor Lodge Winter Shelter

Today, Nov. 20, is the Trans Day of Remembrance, which gives us the opportunity to memorialize the transgender and gender non-conforming people who were violently taken from this world because of who they are. In this space, we recognize each person’s humanity, their dignity and their truth.

On Thursday, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners held a moment of silence in remembrance of the people we know were killed by anti-trans violence this past year, as well as those whose deaths we don't know about. You can read more about that observance, as well as some of the ways that the County is acting to address the disparities and harms that our trans neighbors — particularly trans people of color — face at disproportionate rates here.