Severe weather shelters help homeless avoid freezing temps in Multnomah County

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PORTLAND, Ore. – As Portland dipped well below freezing level on Saturday night, a local nonprofit worked hard to make sure everyone could get out of the cold and into a warm shelter.

This is the first week Multnomah County opened up the severe weather shelters this winter.

As temperatures started rising above freezing on Sunday night, officials went from a "severe weather advisory" to a "cold weather advisory," leaving one shelter open at the Sunrise Center on East Burnside Street.

At last count, the City of Portland had more than 1,600 people living on the streets.

Marc Jolin, the Director of the Joint Office of Homelessness for Mulntomah County says they usually add about 250 beds during the winter to accommodate the need.

“In severe weather mode, we open as much additional shelter capacity as we need, so at that point, no one is going to be turned away from shelter,” Jolin said.

This week they opened up more than 400 additional beds. Sometimes, he said, the problem is getting people to the shelter.

Will McKell works as a specialist for 2-1-1 Info, a service which helps connect people to health and social services in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

He says that during winter storms, they get dozens of calls within a couple of hours.

“My busiest days are days like this, inclement weather, extreme weather days, where there's a lot of demand for shelter. Being their last hope is a lot of what goes through my mind or what gets me motivated to do this work,” said McKell.

2-1-1 collaborated with several cab agencies in town to give people a ride to the nearest shelter.

“That's a really big burden off a lot of people's back to say 'oh okay, I can get to the shelter and i have a place to stay,'” McKell added.

The county is also looking for winter gear donations. They're asking for coats, socks, blankets, and anything to help keep people warm at night.

You can drop them off at Transition Projects at 665 NW Hoyt Street at any time.

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