The city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services has issued its strategy for severe weather response this winter.
Last winter at least four people died of hypothermia or exposure on the streets. Their commitment is that no one who needs a dry place to sleep will be turned away during severe weather response. They're also looking for more volunteers to help.
A severe weather event, as defined by local government, occurs whenever temperatures forecast at 25 degrees or below; forecasts predict at least an inch of snow; overnight temperatures forecast at 32 degrees or below (with at least an inch of driving rain); and other conditions including severe wind chills or extreme temperature fluctuations.
On the busiest night of last year's crisis, officials reported 750 people were sleeping in severe weather shelter, which was in addition to the more than 1,500 year-round and winter beds already around Portland. Last winter the Portland Building opened as a shelter while many others continually operated at capacity. The most recent count of homeless people on Portland's streets and staying in homeless shelters was 4,177.
The Columbia Shelter, a 100-bed emergency shelter, is still in operation at the former Shleifer Furniture building.
The response has three levels — including level one, when there's three days or less of severe weather.
Transition Projects Inc., the county's largest shelter provider, opens one or more shelters with hundreds of other beds ready.
Locations include Imago Dei in southeast Portland, the Bud Clark Commons in downtown Portland, and a shelter in Gresham. Shelters are low-barrier, with space for carts and bikes, and access for pets. (Others in the community may also open spaces if needed.)
• The Joint Office works with 211Info (an information referral hotline for housing, shelter and transportation), TriMet, outreach providers, first responders and taxi companies to coordinate transportation of people and supplies to warming centers, and also to distribute cold weather gear to those who choose not to come to shelter.
• Trained volunteers fill shifts at warming centers as needed.
• The joint office convenes a daily call of first responders, outreach providers and shelter providers to monitor shelter capacity and assist in logistics coordination.
Second-level response includes four or more consecutive days of severe weather
• The response shifts to a 24-hour operation for the joint office and 211Info. Multnomah County's emergency management department assigns a liaison to support the response.
• All level one responses continue, including ongoing expansion of shelter capacity as needed.
Third-level response: Extreme or extended severe weather
• All level one and level two responses remain in effect. Emergency management officials assist in coordinating transportation resources to ensure people are moved to shelter, staff and volunteers reach warming centers, warming center supplies are delivered in timely fashion, and cold weather gear can get to anyone still refusing shelter.
• As more shelter capacity is needed, emergency management officials use their resources to support all aspects of managing that expansion. Public buildings may open.
• Government workers are enlisted to expand the response and relieve volunteers and staffers who have been working for days.
• Because it can be challenging to move people from nighttime warming centers to day spaces and back, certain nighttime warming centers may remain open during the day.
For those looking to volunteer, Transition Projects Inc. is providing 90-minute training sessions for adults 18 and older.
Those interested should go to 211Info to sign up.
Volunteers will do hands-on work and should be comfortable working with people experiencing homelessness.
Interested people should have reliable transportation to use during inclement weather.
In addition to volunteers, outreach workers are in need of winter gear to pass out now in case of emergency.
Needed items include warm socks, waterproof gloves or mittens, waterproof winter coats, sleeping bags and warm blankets, fleece hats, tarps, hand warmers, and rain ponchos.
For drop-off locations and other tips, call 211 or go to 211info.org.