Community efforts persist to help homeless during severe weather
Following four hypothermia deaths and cold and snowy weather, city and county officials as well as community outreach workers have been working to help Portland's homeless population. Many emergency shelters will stay open through the weekend.
The sky dropped 8 to 12 inches of snow around the Portland metro area on Tuesday, Jan. 10, and Portland's homeless population still faces struggle as the snow and cold temperatures linger.
Since Jan. 1, four people who were either homeless or thought to be homeless have died of hypothermia.
In light of those struggles the city and county and other outreach workers have beefed up efforts to help, including the Joint Office of Homeless Services opening additional beds at the Portland Building and at the Multnomah County East government building in Gresham.
According to the county, on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 572 people found warmth in all of the emergency shelter beds, which open when triggered by severe weather events. Emergency weather shelters will remain open Thursday, Jan. 12. Some shelters are planning to stay open through Friday, while others are already listing until Saturday, Jan. 14. A full list of shelters and times and days of operation are available at 211info.org/emergency.
The sheriff's office has transported more than 100 people to and from shelters, according to Multnomah County, and have continued to deliver food and blankets. They've even helped with laundry.
Donations are still being sought by shelters, however, including sleeping bags, tarps, socks, hats, gloves, coats and other warm clothing items.
Some shelters, such as Union Gospel Mission, which have been sleeping between 45-50 people each night during the severe weather, have made it easy for those to help the homeless from home by starting a "wish list" on Amazon.com. Anyone who visits the link tinyurl.com/zdqm2yl can purchase an item the shelter needs and it will ship directly to Union Gospel Mission and given to someone who needs it.
Union Gospel Mission added a military-grade foam mat to their list, which spokesperson Stacy Kean says has been a necessary item to be able to deliver to those who aren't willing to come into a shelter. On Monday, one of their employees saw a person sleeping directly on concrete who didn't wish to move.
"We heard about the gentleman who died from hypothermia and saw this person who didn't want to come in, lying directly on the concrete. Is there something we can do to at least alleviate or improve their chances of making it through?" says Kean.
"We didn't have it on the list at that time so that person's situation kind of inspired us."
Since early December, she says Union Gospel Mission has probably given away 600 blankets and between 100-150 sleeping bags.
The shelter has a search and rescue team that goes out five nights a week, though they were unable to go out during Wednesday's winter storm.
"We've been going out fairly consistently, letting them know not just about us, but other shelters ... and giving out socks and gloves to people not willing to go to a shelter," she says. "It's a scary thing when people have impaired judgment and think it's OK, and ends up not being OK."
How to help
The Portland Building and Multnomah County East government building are still looking for volunteers to help cover shifts at those locations. Find out more at: www.signupgenius.com/go/20f0d4cafa923a7fc1-january
Donate from home
Union Gospel Mission: tinyurl.com/zdqm2yl
Call for help
Portland Police urge people to call 911 if someone outside appears to be in danger or a medical crisis.
Non-emergency situations, such as not being dressed for the weather, should be reported at 503-823-3333 for a welfare check.
To find shelter and transportation to a shelter, call 211 or visit 211info.org/emergency where there is a full list of all emergency shelters in Multnomah County and elsewhere. Portland Police also will continue to look for vulnerable people on the street and offer transportation to shelters.
Multnomah County crisis line
For those struggling with mental health, call the Multnomah County crisis line at 503-988-4888, where counselors are on duty 24/7. Services offered include:
• Free mental health support
• Interpretation services for non-English speakers
• Referral to low-cost or sliding-scale agencies
• Help finding mental health providers
• Information about non-crisis community resources