Portland Mayor Wheeler outlines plans to protect homeless during virus outbreak
Mayor Ted Wheeler announced a COVID-19 State of Emergency on Thursday morning: one day after Wheeler discussed the following responses to the outbreak at a Wednesday, March 11, City Council meeting:
Homeless people in Multnomah County most at risk of the COVID-19 virus are being moved out of emergency shelters and into motels and other locations.
Emergency winter shelters also are staying open for other homeless people, who are being directed to stay a safe distance from one another and staff.
In addition, Portland is preparing to deploy 14 portable hand-washing stations around the city, seven of which also will have portable toilets.
And city workers who feel ill are being told to stay home, even while large gathers of those reporting to work are being canceled.
Later Thursday morning, Wheeler's office released a list of other steps the city is taking, including:
• During the state of emergency, water service will not be disconnected for non-payment of sewer/stormwater/water bills.
• The city will convene a COVID-19 Economic Impact Task Force to generate ideas for a stimulus package to help small and large businesses recoup losses from canceled events and loss of business.
The responses were first revealed during an unplanned discussion at the City Council on the morning of Wednesday, March 11. It happened after protesters disrupted the meeting about 45 minutes after it began. They demanded to know what the city was doing to protect the homeless.
Mayor Ted Wheeler temporarily adjourned the meeting while some of the protesters were escorted out of the Council Chambers. When the meeting resumed, Wheeler presented the first public overview of the city's response to the outbreak. He explained that, because Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has declared a state of emergency, the Oregon Health Authority is in charge of the Incident Command Structure.
Second in line are counties, Wheeler said, because they have public health departments. Portland has embedded employees from the Bureau of Emergency Management at the command center in the county to share information and to coordinate its response.
"This situation will change on a daily, if not hourly basis, going forward," Wheeler said.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty added to the sense of uncertainty, saying, "We don't know what we don't know yet."
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said she supported a ban on evictions and rent increases during the outbreak, although no such measure has been introduced. Hardesty cautioned that the council has only begun such discussion, however, and that she was not yet prepared to support such bans.
Multnomah County is maintaining a website with information on COVID-19 and the responses to it, including the new emergency shelter policies Wheeler discussed, at multco.us/novel-coronavirus-covid-19.
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