Photo: Multnomah County
With forecasters expecting an especially cold and wet winter, leaders from Portland and Multnomah County reaffirmed their promise to provide no-turn-away shelter and transportation on the most dangerous nights of the year.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.
The winter shelter will open while planning and design work are under way for a permanent shelter at Arbor Lodge that will start construction next fall. Both the near- and long-term planning at Arbor Lodge have support from surrounding neighbors.
“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.
“The City and County are working closer together than I believe we ever have to support our community in times of need,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler. “But the truth is we can never have too much community support. There’s many ways we need the support of the public.”
Severe weather information
The Joint Office declares severe weather on any night when temperatures are forecast to drop below 25 degrees, or on any night when the forecast shows freezing conditions and heavy rain or snow.
On those nights, no one seeking shelter will be turned away. 211 will share alerts about shelter locations and hours. Street outreach teams will work to reach people in need with gear and information about shelters. Anyone seeking a ride to shelter can also call 211 and have transportation arranged.
This year, more locations will open in the hours after a severe weather declaration than in past winters:
- The Portland Building, downtown (70 beds)
- Imago Dei Church, in the near eastside (50 beds)
- The Salvation Army’s Moore Street center, in North Portland (50 beds)
- The Sunrise Center, in Gresham (45 beds)
- Mt. Scott Community Center, in Southeast Portland (30 beds)
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. Several other locations can be prepped to open quickly as needed.
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.
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 obtain rides as needed. During severe weather, 211info moves to 24-hour operations in Multnomah County.
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.
Unlike severe weather-only beds, winter shelter beds are open day after day, no matter the forecast, from November/December through April. Other community partners not funded through the Joint Office also add winter shelter capacity.
Just like with year-round shelters, winter shelters are available only through reservations. Anyone interested in accessing shelter should contact 211.
Seasonal shelters include:
- Walnut Park Shelter, 5329 N.E. Martin Luther King Blvd.; 80 beds, operated by Transition Projects
- Downtown Winter Shelter (former Greyhound Station), 550 N.W. 6th Ave.; 96 beds, operated by Do Good Multnomah
- Arbor Lodge Winter Shelter, 1952 N. Lombard Ave.; 70 beds, operated by Do Good Multnomah
- Additional winter-only beds (10) will also be available in the Joint Office's youth shelter system.
Two of the seasonal shelters, the Walnut Park Shelter and the Downtown Winter Shelter, have been operating nonstop since last winter, thanks to COVID-19 funding and other local funding. Both have been able to continue providing space throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Multnomah County purchased the Arbor Lodge site, a former Rite Aid, with one-time COVID-19 funding last year. The Joint Office and County previously operated Arbor Lodge as an emergency shelter during snowstorms and heatwaves.
But this year, thanks to funding from the state, the Joint Office will operate Arbor Lodge as a 24/7 winter shelter for the next several months while it works to design and construct a long-term shelter on the site starting next fall.
Cold weather outreach and supplies
The Joint Office and its providers will also continue their work, just as they did last winter and during the summer’s heat events, distributing life-saving gear to those in need.
The Joint Office’s downtown outreach supply center will work in close coordination with contracted and volunteer outreach teams before and throughout forecasted severe weather events to ensure supplies reach people all across the County.
When severe weather thresholds aren't met — but when overnight temperatures are forecast at 32 degrees or below, for roughly four hours or longer — the Joint Office will issue a “cold weather alert.”
The work of distributing supplies will also happen even when severe weather shelters aren’t open. On those nights, providers will conduct additional and focused outreach to find vulnerable people and distribute gear. Any overflow shelter capacity will also be made available to outreach workers, who can refer people in need.
To support that work, service providers and the Joint Office continue to call for community donations of winter gear.
Items especially important to donate include gently used or new winter shoes and boots, waterproof hats, gloves, blankets, tarps, and coats. More information on what to donate, and where to take it, is at211info.org/donations. Providers have online shopping lists available through that link, meaning you can donate directly to providers from your phone or computer — supporting vital work while also maintaining physical distancing.
Source: Multnomah County