March 28: Multnomah County's COVID-19 response: taking care of each other

For the most up-to-date information about Multnomah County's COVID-19 response, please check our COVID-19 website, and the County’s Twitter and Facebook channels, often. You can also contact my office if you have any other questions.

Dear friends and neighbors,

Staying home, and only traveling outside when it’s essential, has been the best thing we can all do to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep our family, neighbors, friends and ourselves as safe as possible. While Multnomah County continues to take on the challenge of limiting the spread of the virus, I’ve been encouraged to see that the majority of our community take these measures seriously. Thank you so much for looking out for our collective health and safety.

Throughout this past week, over social media, video chats and text messages, I’ve seen the countless ways in which people in our community have coped with staying inside. With big doses of creativity, grace, patience and humor, people have made the most of staying home and staying healthy. It gives me confidence that our commitment to physical distancing can be sustained as long as it’s necessary.

Unfortunately, not everyone in our community has access to housing — and without it, people experiencing homelessness can’t stay home and stay safe. In response, Multnomah County has taken quick action to limit the spread of COVID-19 to and among members of the homeless population. As I shared last week, one of the County’s boldest steps was to open temporary shelters that allow our shelter system to maintain its current capacity of beds while practicing safe physical distance.

Yet when we talk about shelters during this public health crisis, it’s easy to focus on the facilities, the spacing, meals and hygiene. But we cannot forget about what it means for the people who depend on these shelters for a safe place to sleep. Katie, a resident of the new temporary shelter at the Charles Jordan Community Center, shared with a local news outlet, “They’re so kind. They’re so loving in here. I’ve never seen so many special people in my life [than] in here. I'd like to tell everybody thank you.”

Chair Deborah Kafoury announces a partnership with the Jupiter Hotel for use as a temporary space to spread existing shelter beds on March 26, 2020.
Chair Deborah Kafoury announces a partnership with the Jupiter Hotel for use as a temporary space to spread existing shelter beds on March 26, 2020.
Her words have stuck with me, and they remind me that what the County is doing, along with our partners, to support people experiencing homelessness during this unprecedented emergency is both right and necessary. That includes:

  • Partnering with local hotels and motels like the Jupiter Hotel to ensure people in shelter experiencing COVID-19 symptoms have a safe place to isolate and receive additional medical support services.
  • Preparing the East Portland Community Center as a women-only shelter as part of our larger effort to maintain capacity while upholding safety measures.
  • Ordering a residential eviction moratorium to ensure more people aren’t thrust into homelessness, or unstable housing, during or because of COVID-19’s impact on wages and income. 
  • Authorizing shelters to expand the use of motel vouchers to ensure shelter residents who are at higher risk of experiencing complications from COVID-19 could access safer accommodations.
  • Keeping adult winter shelters to open so that dozens of people could stay inside and allow our shelters to start spacing out as soon as we started learning about the virus.
  • Coordinating a countywide outreach initiative that reached more than 2,100 people in all parts of the County to distribute gear, sanitizer and bedding, led by the Joint Office.
  • Teaming the Joint Office and Multnomah County Public Health together to create and distribute COVID-19 info cards to and for people experiencing homelessness. More than 2,000 copies have been shared.
  • Developing comprehensive guidance for shelters and people who are unsheltered as a shared effort between the Joint Office and community-based organizations.

The work ahead to protect people who are particularly vulnerable to the virus will be long. And in order for us to keep it going, I’m asking those who can to help the County sustain our response. Multnomah County is seeking qualified medical staff, as well as people with experience in social services, to staff our shelters and hotel/motel settings as temporary full-time employees or as shorter-term volunteers. Visit the County shelter jobs page to learn more about this opportunity to step up for your community.

With each passing day of this COVID-19 crisis, I hear more people and businesses asking how they can help. For some, the best way to contribute to the cause is to stay inside. For others, it’s pivoting their business to meet our urgent needs. And as more of these stories come to light, I become increasingly confident that our community is built to weather this storm. 

The last thing Katie, the shelter resident, said to the camera crew was, “We’ve all gotta come together.” She’s absolutely right. We must and we will.


Deborah Kafoury

Multnomah County Chair