It’s cold, but not cold enough for MultCo warming shelters


How Multco is preparing ahead of the winter weather

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As temperatures are expected to dip this week, the Multnomah County Joint Office of Homeless Services says the weather does not yet meet their requirements to activate severe weather shelter — but they are ready regardless. 

Multnomah County Communications Coordinator Denis Theriault told KOIN 6 News despite the severe weather shelters being closed, the county has already taken steps to keep homeless residents safe.

“We’ve got our winter shelters already open and that’s really important this time of year,” Theriault said. “When we have forecasts that aren’t going to activate our severe weather shelters, but are going to be colder than we’re used to seeing, we do have those outreach workers going out and bringing survival gear to folks.”

Walnut Park Shelter in Northeast Portland (Courtesy/Multnomah County)

With anticipated temperatures in the mid 30’s, Theriault said Multnomah County and the Office of Emergency Management will closely monitor the forecast and act accordingly. 

“We’re not going to see that sustained cold temperature overnight that would activate our shelters,” Theriault explained. “We’re watching to make sure that doesn’t happen and can adjust if necessary. But right now, we’re not planning to open our severe weather shelters.”

“Typically, we’re looking at 25 degrees or colder, over four hours, overnight. We can open them if it’s 32 degrees or colder if we’re getting an inch of snow or rain, and we’re close to hitting those but we’re not quite there yet.”

Denis Theriault

But how cold is too cold for the county to activate additional shelter for those living outside? Theriault told KOIN 6 News the weather must meet specific requirements before those resources become accessible.

“Typically, we’re looking at 25 degrees or colder, over four hours, overnight,” Theriault said. “We can open them if it’s 32 degrees or colder if we’re getting an inch of snow or rain, and we’re close to hitting those but we’re not quite there yet.”

Homeless campers cover their tents with tarps as hail pummels Portland, Jan. 14, 2020. (KOIN)

 Theriault explained that with the addition of more severe weather shelter locations, the county would be prepared to open quickly if the decision was necessary. 

“We’ve got about five sites that will open, with 250 beds, and agreements in place for about another half-dozen sites,” Theriault stated. “This year we have more staff ready to do this work from the county and the city. We’ve got community volunteers also ready, Portland Neighborhood Emergency Volunteers, there’s a huge infrastructure in place.”

According to Theriault, if and when the county were to activate its severe weather shelters their commitment would be to not turn a single person away.

He claims their team reviewed over 3 dozen potential locations and began devising a plan following the deadly heat wave that devastated Portland last summer.

Cots inside a homeless shelter in Portland, November 19, 2021 (KOIN)

The county has added new shelter locations in areas that were previously underserved and plans to use these locations again next summer.  

“The Moore Street Center at The Salvation Army and the Sunrise Center in far East County are giving us shelter options in places we haven’t been able to open them before,” Theriault said. “We offer free rides so folks can call 211 and get a cab, and the TriMet waives fares in a severe weather emergency, but it’s easier when those shelters are closer to folks.”

Despite the current lack of severe weather shelters, the county’s open winter and standard shelters have the capacity to offer warmth for many of Portland’s homeless population.

“Even without that extra severe weather shelter we’ve got room for about 2000 people right now, on any given night,” Theriault stated.

He told KOIN 6 News for those who want to support those living outside, the county is always looking for volunteers to help assist during inclement weather and winter gear donations are much appreciated.

Details on how to help can be located at the 211 website.

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