Gresham's homeless seek shelter from toxic wildfire smoke
As most residents are holed up inside to avoid the hazardous air quality from wildfire smoke, Gresham city officials are working to protect homeless individuals with nowhere to go.
Last week the Multnomah County Joint Office of Homeless Services created temporary additional capacity within the shelter system to get homeless individuals indoors. Gresham's homeless team has continued to offer shelter to those who want it, as well as providing bottled water, food and masks to those in need.
"The availability of shelter beds has not been a barrier for our staff so far," said Elizabeth Coffey, Gresham communications director.
This is a dangerous time to be outside in Multnomah County, which continues to have the worst air quality in the world.
The peak for pollutants in the air was the weekend — Saturday and Sunday Sept. 12-13 — when the air quality index was 324 and 342 respectively. That index measures how many particles are in the air and is determined by the Environmental Protection Agency using six criteria. Normally in this region it is pollen that causes the hazardous conditions.
But for more than a week it was wildfire smoke blanketing the region. Multnomah County officials said someone who spent a day last weekend outside would have inhaled the equivalent of 15 cigarettes. If you smell smoke, you are inhaling fine particles.
Shelters are being offered all day for the duration of the smoke event and includes amenities such as meals. If a community member is seeking shelter, they should call 211.
A solution for homeless individuals who turn down a spot in a shelter is wearing a mask to limit the number of dangerous particles they inhale. The county procured 40,000 N95 masks to provide better protection for not only the smoke, but for COVID-19 as well when the smoke clears.
Gresham received an allotment of 500 masks Monday morning, Sept. 14, that helpers have been passing out.
For all community members, the best way to avoid issues around the air quality is to remain indoors with windows tightly shut. Running an air purifier is a great way to keep your home smoke-free, but if you do venture out, wear a mask.
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