A year after COVID-19 threatened that annual commitment, City and County officials gathered to recognize months of intensive work and detail the community’s most comprehensive plan yet for responding to freezing winter weather.
They briefed reporters from the parking lot of the Joint Office of Homeless Services’ Arbor Lodge Winter Shelter, which will open Friday afternoon for the first time. Leaders announced a list of sites that will provide severe weather shelter on nights when thresholds are met, as well as plans to provide transportation and street outreach.
“Last winter was tremendously difficult, with the pandemic threatening our ability to offer no-turn-away shelter. But we managed it thanks to a huge lift from the community, and partners like Metro,” County Chair Deborah Kafoury said. “This year, thanks to vaccines, months of planning, and a network of partners, there’s no uncertainty: We will be able to offer no-turn-away shelter to anyone who needs a safe, dry, warm place to spend the night during the coldest, most dangerous nights.”
“Today is a testament to the power of collaboration and what we can accomplish when we work together. We’re guaranteeing that no one will be turned away from shelter on the deadliest nights of the year,” said City Commissioner Dan Ryan. “The City and County governments are coming together to provide buildings, train shared pools of employees and volunteers, and plan for emergencies. We have first responders like Portland Fire & Rescue at the ready, and we have outreach teams that are prepared to find people and provide vital supplies.”
Leaders also noted work to provide additional all-winter shelter, like the space at Arbor Lodge. Arbor Lodge, thanks to funding from the State of Oregon, will be open 24 hours, all season, and not just on nights when there’s severe weather.
“I am especially grateful to the residents of Kenton and Arbor Lodge for their support,” said County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, whose district includes the shelter site. “They have opened their arms to a variety of housing options for their neighbors and have stepped up to ensure these new community members are welcomed.”
Arbor Lodge is also the first shelter managed by the Joint Office that pairs heated sleeping pods outside with a traditional indoor sleeping space, allowing the facility to expand the number of people it serves.
“With the pods in the parking lot and the beds inside, we’re going to be serving more of our unhoused neighbors this winter starting today because of this site,” said Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, whose district includes the Arbor Lodge shelter. “Because lots of people over the last couple of months have worked very hard to make this happen. Because none of us want to see our neighbors living on the streets.”
Among the other highlights of this year’s plan:
- As many as five locations will be immediately ready to open on nights when severe weather thresholds are met, offering roughly 250 beds while also ensuring physical distancing and COVID-19 protocols.
- Secondary locations with hundreds more beds are ready to open should those initial sites fill.
- The combined spread of locations will offer unprecedented geographic flexibility and involve a wide array of government and community partners.
- The pool of on-call workers will be larger than ever, thanks to closer collaboration between City and County Emergency Management teams, contracted nonprofit partners, the state Department of Human Services, and Portland’s Neighborhood Emergency Team volunteers.
- The Joint Office’s downtown outreach supply center is stocking life-saving cold weather gear, along with food and water. The supply center will serve as a central hub and arsenal for coordinated work to send outreach teams across the County — not only on nights when there’s severe weather, but on any night when it’s below freezing.
- Community members can also plug in and support the plan right now: They can go to 211info.org/donations to help provide even more gear, before it’s needed. Or they can sign up to train as a shelter volunteer with Transition Projects, at tprojects.org. Community members should also go to 211info.org and sign up to receive weather alerts.
Local leaders on Friday thanked some of the community partners and government agencies that will help provide severe weather shelter or transportation this winter: Transition Projects, Cultivate Initiatives, Portland Parks and Recreation, Multnomah County Emergency Management, the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, the Department of County Human Services, the Oregon Department of Human Services, and first responders such as Portland Fire and Rescue.
On nights when those emergency beds open, there will be enough shelter available in Multnomah County for close to 2,300 people at minimum, with room for hundreds as needed if those beds fill.
That record amount of shelter is possible thanks to work by the Joint Office throughout the pandemic to not just preserve but expand shelter capacity, by shifting beds from congregate shelters first into temporary spaces like community centers, and then into a series of motels.