Amid wildfire evacuations, university offers comfort
Antonio Recillas's hotel guests are more distraught than usual. They're holed up, waiting, watching news like hawks as lingering smoke from fires near their homes makes Portland's outside air barely breathable.
Since Friday, Sept. 11, Portland State University's University Place Hotel & Conference Center opened its rooms to PSU students and staff who had to flee their homes because of wildfire danger.
By Monday afternoon, the hotel housed 79 guests — 70 adults and nine kids — who were evacuees.
The university announced it would offer free rooms to PSU students, staff and their families as wildfires raged throughout the state. Immediately, the inquiries came in.
"We were bombarded with phone calls and emails," says Recillas, who manages the PSU hotel.
Hotel staff were able to accommodate evacuees and their pets, including a multi-generational family of nine people.
The hotel rooms were a welcome contrast to the evacuation centers and shelters, some of which offered cots to sleep on and free meals for evacuees, while others could only offer parking lot camping and donated food.
"As they come in, we work with them and make them comfortable," Recillas said of evacuees. "When you have to leave your home and go someplace and bring your belongings and pets … we don't want to have the burden on their shoulders, so they're very appreciative."
University Place is allowing evacuees to stay for up to two weeks. The hotel's restaurant has opened up to serve free breakfasts each morning and the parking garage is waiving its daily $18 parking fees for those guests.
For Holly Gardner, whose son attends the university, the offer was a welcome relief. Replying to an announcement from PSU President Stephen Percy on Sept. 11 about the hotel resource via Twitter, Gardner thanked her alma mater university for its generosity. "Thank you, PSU for helping our family [as] we evacuate from the Beavercreek area," Gardner wrote. "It makes both myself (PSU MS — Curriculum and Instruction) and his father (PSU BS — Social Sciences) relieved that my son (PSU student — Music Education) has a safe and comfortable place to stay."
While some urged the university to extend the offer to non-PSU affiliated evacuees, Recillas said the hotel has already done that, to some extent. In addition to rooms for residents fleeing fires, the university hotel has reserved a block of nearly 190 rooms in the 235-room hotel for essential workers, first-responders and a Multnomah County emergency team in coordination with the governor's office, he said.
"This exercise allows us to do what we do best in hospitality. We serve people. It allows us to participate and provide some relief," Recillas said. "They so need it. We're exercising the credo of the university."
He isn't just welcoming fire evacuees at work, he's doing the same in his own home.
Recillas, who lives in Beaverton, said his in-laws from Canby are staying with him and his family until it's safe for them to return home.
Much like those staying at the PSU hotel, Recillas says his family members are worried about their futures.
"It's not something I wish for anyone," he noted. "If we can be of assistance, we absolutely should."
Eligible PSU affiliates who'd like to book a room will need to call or email the hotel to make a reservation.
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