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Homeless people always at risk when temperatures drop

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Several forecasters and weather experts offered a look back at weather in 2015 and gave predictions for 2016 at the 24th Annual Winter Weather Forecast Conference at OMSI. While the conversation over homelessness persists in Portland, one thing is driving a sense of urgency: winter.

Yes, it’s on its way, but what should the city really expect?

Weather aficionados gathered anxiously recently to hear the annual winter forecast prediction at the 24th Winter Weather Forecast Conference, only to be told that the bottom line is, it’s really anyone’s guess.

“There is an equal chance that temperatures and precipitation could end up below average, near average or above average,” says Colby Neuman, of the National Weather Service in Portland. He addressed the audience at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The event was presented by the Oregon chapter of the American Meterological Society.

Though residents should prepare for a wide range of possibilities, including snow in the valley, Neuman says “It’s almost assured that we will experience more wet and cool temperatures than subfreezing temperatures and snow this winter.”

Last year was the fourth-warmest winter on record. The city experienced a whopping 1.1 inches of snow downtown, according to the National Weather Service. The lowest dip in temperature the city experienced was 24 degrees.

Rain was the star of Portland’s 2015 winter, with 25 consecutive rainy days in December.

However, even though Portland hasn’t seen an epic blizzard recently, persistent rain and drops in temperatures still can pose dangers, especially to the city’s most vulnerable population: those without a home.

Little snow or no, it’s still dangerous

According to Neuman, temperatures dropped to or below freezing 20 times last winter.

“Whether we have a lot of low temperatures around 30 or 35 degrees, it’s plenty cold enough to kill or injure those unprepared for those temperatures,” Neuman says.

Fifty-one percent of homeless deaths reported in the annual Domicile Unknown report by Multnomah County occurred during the colder months: October through March.

Though there was not a dramatic difference from warmer weather deaths, Dr. Paul Lewis, the health officer who helped analyze Multnomah County Medical Examiner cases for Domicile Unknown, says the county is cautious about drawing conclusions.

“Over the years, there have been very few deaths directly linked to the weather, for example, hypothermia,” he says. “But again, just because a death is not directly related to the weather does not mean that living outside in the cold did not contribute to another cause of death.”

Many warming shelters in Portland open their doors only when temperatures drop below freezing, but hypothermia can occur in air temperatures as high as 50 degrees.

This makes donations of appropriate clothing to those in need especially important.

Troy Hammond with 211info, a hotline that connects communities in Oregon and Southwest Washington to local resources, says during winter months he observes an uptick not only in calls from people looking for shelter, but also an uptick in requests from people looking to donate.

“We also get requests for warm clothing and gear for sleeping out,” he says. Hats are “especially crucial,” according to a 2010 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless; up to 50 percent of a person’s body heat can be lost through an uncovered head.

Being out in the rain persistently poses a threat too, when wet clothing can cause a “20-fold increase in heat loss,” according to the report.

Severe weather and warming shelters

Those in the area without a home can find sanctuary in some of the warming or severe weather shelters that open up during winter. As of right now, a search on 211info’s website for severe weather shelters in Multnomah County yields only one result — Clackamas Service Center, 8800 S.E. 80th Ave. — though more will be added as the weather gets colder.

Clackamas Service Center is routinely open as a hub to connect those in need to food and resources, but during winter it opens an overnight warming shelter with space for 30 people when temperatures drop below 33 degrees.

Open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., the center opened on Nov. 20 last year and provided shelter to those vulnerable for 29 days, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. It also opened when flooding occurred along Johnson Creek last December.

Rob Shryock, operations manager, notes a spike in needs during the winter months.

“In summer it’s certainly never ideal, but in the winter everyone has to get inside or they’re at serious risk of dying,” Shryock says. “We’ve had to call an ambulance because after some of the storms people were in such poor health.”

Last year, all 30 camp pads and blankets were in use every day except for two.

“So we had to turn people away, but we tried to help them find another shelter by getting them bus tickets and directions,” Shryock says. This year, he isn’t so sure what to expect at the center.

“There’s potentially more shelter beds (opening in Portland), but also potentially more need,” he says.

Marc Jolin, executive director of A Home for Everyone/Office of Homeless Services, a joint initiative between the city and Multnomah County, says they’re working to get more beds on line ahead of winter, beyond the year-round capacity. A new winter shelter was announced on Friday (see separate story on this page).

Transition Projects operates two overnight shelters during cold months, when the temperature or wind chill drops to 25 degrees or below; 1 inch or more of snow accumulates on the ground; or if the temperature reaches 32 degrees or below but with significant rain or sleet.

Transition Projects’ services are provided at The Day Center at Bud Clark Commons, 650 N.W. Irving St., and at Imago Dei Community Center, 1302 S.E. Ankeny St. Both locations will open from 8:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. on those freezing days. The Day Center at Bud Clark Commons says it also will offer expanded capacity for those seeking daytime shelter.

Jolin added that Portland Rescue Mission, 111 W. Burnside, maintains extra capacity throughout the winter, while Union Gospel Mission, 3 N.W. Third Ave., and St. Francis Dining Hall, 330 S.E. 11th Ave., will offer shelter during “severe weather incidents.”

Texting for emergency services

• 211info has launched a program to keep people in the area up to date on emergency shelters that open up. Text “pdxshelter” to 898211, and users will get a confirmation back.

•Transitions Projects is seeking volunteers to help staff its two severe- weather shelters. The next training date is Nov. 17, from 8-9 a.m., at the main offices at Bud Clark Commons, 665 N.W. Hoyt St. Donations are also needed ahead of winter.

For questions about volunteering or donations, email Lauren Holt at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 503-280-4741.

• Donations are accepted at Clackamas Service Center, 8800 S.E. 80th Ave., between 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Needed items include food, clothing and hygiene products. For more information, call 503-771-7914 or visit

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