Washington County closes outdoor camps, winter shelters open
Recent weather, including overnight freezing temperatures, has prompted Washington County officials to close a temporary, managed outdoor camping facility and transition unhoused people at the facility to the county's winter shelters a few weeks ahead of schedule.
The county announced it previously closed the facilty Tuesday, Nov. 24, a week before the facility was set to close Tuesday, Dec. 1.
Four winter shelters opened Monday, Nov. 16, said Marni Kuyl, director of Washington County's Department of Health and Human Services, at a meeting of county commissioners on Nov. 17.
The shelters are located in four areas of the county, including western Washington County (Forest Grove and Cornelius), Beaverton, Hillsboro, and south county (Sherwood, Tigard and Tualatin).
The first day the shelters opened, they were nearly at their 120-bed capacity, Kuyl said.
People wanting to stay in one of the shelters won't be able to show up at the door on any given night as they have in previous years. This year, the county is using an outreach referral system in which people request to stay in a shelter.
They must complete daily wellness checks to stay in the shelter, minutes from a county housing and supportive service network meeting on Nov. 3 show.
A wait list of 30 people hoping to stay in a shelter was created after the shelters opened Nov. 16, Kuyl said.
The county opened the facility called "Safe Sleep Village" at Westside Commons, formerly known as the Washington County Fair Complex, in early August to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 among the county's homeless population.
Unhoused people are vulnerable to infection because they often live in congregated spaces without access to sanitary resources and medical care — although officials have reported low COVID-19 case numbers among the homeless, which may reflect a gap in the availability of testing.
Officials had particular concerns about multiple unregulated camps that had been growing on public property during the summer. The county prioritized people in those camps to move to Safe Sleep Village.
In three months, the facility offered a place to stay for more than 100 people, providing 50 socially distanced camping spaces at a time in a parking lot. The nonprofit Project Homeless Connect used a nearby building to serve meals and provide bathrooms and showers.
The county continues to operate a respite shelter at a hotel in Hillsboro for homeless people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
About 1,000 people are estimated to be living in Washington County without a permanent address, according to a fall 2019 report by the county. The report stated about 5,300 were considered at an imminent risk of becoming homeless based on economic factors.
The impacts of the pandemic are expected to increase the number of people who are homeless and those who are at risk of homelessness.
Gov. Kate Brown extended an eviction moratorium for residential tenants through 2020. But housing experts expect homelessness to increase when eviction moratoriums expire, as previous months' rent will come due even as many tenants continue to deal with losses of income.
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