‘Look out for your neighbors’: Homelessness providers call for community donations, shelter volunteers this winter

November 19, 2019

Chair Deborah Kafoury speaks at Imago Dei Church on Nov. 13, 2019.
With winter-like weather approaching, and an early cold snap already behind us, the Joint Office of Homeless Services, Chair Deborah Kafoury and community partners gathered Nov. 13 to ask for the community’s help donating gear, volunteering in shelters and looking out for vulnerable neighbors.

“The question I’m asked the most isn’t about the things you might expect,” Chair Kafoury said during a press conference at Imago Dei Church, which for years has offered its gymnasium as emergency shelter space during the coldest nights of the year. “It’s, ‘What can I do to help?’” 

“At this time of year,” when help “can make the difference between life and death,” she said, “the answer to that question is sadly quite easy: We need your winter gear and we need you to look out for your neighbors.”

Go to 211info.org to donate gear, volunteer

Kafoury joined outreach providers, shelter providers, emergency managers and first responders in a unified call:

Go to 211.org/donations — now, before the weather turns dangerous — and learn how and where to donate winter gear and how to train as a shelter volunteer during severe weather. 

Kim James of Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare speaks at Imago Dei Church on Nov. 13, 2019.
Since 2017, 211info has worked with the Joint Office and service providers to share that information. The site includes a link to a signup sheet for training sessions, held throughout the winter for interested shelter volunteers, as well as specific instructions and wish lists for proactive donations winter gear.

Providers also created an online shopping list to make donating more convenient. That means anyone can donate at any time, even if snow and ice have made roads difficult to traverse. Items ordered online can be delivered directly to JOIN, at 1435 NE 81st Ave., Suite 100, Portland, OR, 97213. JOIN is also accepting donations in person at that address.

Transition Projects, located at 665 NW Hoyt in downtown Portland, is also accepting in-person donations 24/7 and will share those items with other providers as needed.

Providers are requesting the following items:

  • Thick socks (adult sizes)

  • Waterproof/resistant gloves or mittens (preferably dark colors/black, adult sizes)

  • Waterproof/resistant winter coats (men’s and women’s sizes)

  • Sleeping bags and warm blankets

  • Waterproof/resistant hats (preferably dark colors/black)

  • Knit hats (preferably dark colors/black)

  • Tarps (preferably brown, dark colors)

  • Hand warmers

  • Rain ponchos

“Winter is traditionally a time for care, compassion, charity and generosity," said Kim James, street outreach program manager for Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare. "It's also when it becomes more important than ever to do whatever we can to help each other."

When and where to call when someone needs help

Providers urged community members to immediately call 9-1-1 any time they see someone who seems at imminent risk of injury or death because of the weather. 

But in instances when there isn’t an immediate danger, Chair Kafoury asked community members to dial one of the following phone numbers:

Tremaine Clayton of Portland Fire & Rescue speaks at Imago Dei Church on Nov. 13, 2019.
If someone needs a first responder or outreach worker to perform a wellness check, maybe because they don’t have the right gear, call the Portland Police Bureau’s non-emergency line at 503-823-3333.

If someone appears to be experiencing a behavioral health crisis, call Multnomah County’s mental health crisis line at 503-988-4888.

Tremaine Clayton, a Portland firefighter who leads Portland Fire and Rescue’s outreach efforts to people experiencing homelessness, also reminded the community to dial 2-1-1 during nights when severe weather shelters are open. Call-takers at 2-1-1 can arrange to have people in need of beds picked up and driven to shelter.

During severe weather, he said, “211 is the best.”

Severe weather planning and beyond

The Joint Office and community partners also shared their plan for managing shelter during severe winter weather — nights when temperatures or forecast to drop below 25 degrees, or nights when the forecast shows freezing conditions and heavy rain or snow. 

On those nights, no one seeking shelter will be turned away.

Courtney Dodds of Union Gospel Mission speaks at Imago Dei Church on Nov. 13, 2019.
Within hours of a declaration, the Joint Office and shelter operator Transition Projects can open 325 severe weather beds across three locations: the Bud Clark Commons in downtown, Imago Dei in the near eastside and the Sunrise Community Center in Gresham.

And more beds can open as needed — as many as it takes to ensure everyone seeking a warm, dry place to sleep can have one. This year, Portland Parks and Recreation has offered to convert community centers to severe weather shelters if needed.

Those emergency beds add to an inventory of more than 1,400 year-round beds funded by the Joint Office as well as 225 seasonal beds open nightly from November until April. 

That means, overall, the Joint Office supports roughly 2,000 shelter beds on the coldest and wettest nights of the year.

But Marc Jolin, director of the Joint Office, noted that volunteers are key to helping those shelters do their work, particularly during long stretches of severe weather when cold and snow settle in for several days.

“We cannot emphasize enough the need to have the community step forward to help keep people safe this winter,” Jolin said. “Go to 211info.org, learn how you can volunteer in the severe weather shelters, donate gear to our outreach teams, and be our eyes on the streets — helping make sure people get the help that they need when the weather becomes life-threatening.”