February 3, 2022

Image of tents covered in snow, December 2021. Near Morrison Bridge in SE Portland. Image from Multnomah County.
Image of tents covered in snow, December 2021. Near Morrison Bridge in SE Portland. Image from Multnomah County.
The last week of December in 2021 brought the longest stretch of extremely cold and snowy weather that the Portland area had seen in years. And it was landing at the same time as a surge in COVID-19 cases, spurred by the contagious omicron variant.

And the Joint Office of Homeless Services – working with our community service providers, and our partners at Multnomah County Emergency Management, the Health Department and the Department of County Human Services, Metro and the City of Portland – was ready.

We had been preparing for a winter emergency for months, in order to be ready to provide support for our unhoused neighbors during any severe weather events this winter. That work also included being ready to keep people safe from the elements while managing the ongoing risks from COVID-19. 

During the 11-day period from 12/20/2021 to 1/1/2021, we were able to open seven winter shelters. In total we served 2,377 bed nights, with over 6,000 meals served. 

We also worked through our downtown outreach supply center to provide life-saving gear to community groups, mutual aid groups and volunteers. Those groups braved the elements and joined our contracted outreach workers in delivering:

  • 2,079 sleeping bags 

  • 4,640 tarps

  • 2,646 tents 

  • 5,939 blankets

  • 9,808 pairs of socks 

  • 3,930 ponchos

  • 3,400 Mylar thermal sleeping bags

  • 7,277 hot hands

  • 1,846 hoodies, 

  • 1,993 sweatpants

  • 5,698 gloves 

  • 5,614 hats

Just a month before this severe cold event, we also managed to open a new winter shelter with beds and services in North Portland. The Arbor Lodge Shelter, run by our community partner Do Good Multnomah, opened in November 2021 in a former Rite Aid with space for 70 people, including 12 in sleeping pods. Arbor Lodge is the first hybrid shelter space with a traditional indoor space and sleeping pods outside. This added to the winter shelter capacity we already have at the Greyhound and Walnut Park shelters, and through Janus Youth.

In addition to all the usual challenges, this extreme weather event hit the county at a time of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 surging across the US. The Joint Office worked with the local Health Department and our providers to distribute new KN95 masks to everyone in the warming shelters. We also had the Health Department come to the warming shelters to conduct vaccination clinics, to help slow the spread of this variant in our community.

All year long, the Joint Office works with providers to connect neighbors to shelter, housing, outreach, gear, and prevention services. And in severe weather like what Multnomah County experienced in the last part of December, county and city employees join staff from our community providers, and volunteers from the public, to ensure that no one who needs a warm, dry place will be turned away - no matter how many days of severe weather we have.

Want to help our houseless neighbors through future severe weather events?

Sign up here to train with Transition Projects as a volunteer for Severe Weather Shelter. 

Click here to donate gear and supplies to community based organizations.