'More light to a darkened world': Seasonal shelter for homeless families opens at Congregation Beth Israel

December 13, 2017

Congregation Beth Israel.
PORTLAND -- Starting Tuesday, December 12, Congregation Beth Israel in Northwest Portland began hosting a seasonal shelter for families with children seeking a safer, warmer place off the streets.

The shelter, operated by Portland Homeless Family Solutions, will provide nighttime accommodations for up to 75 children and their parents from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily through April 30, 2018.

The opportunity to provide needed shelter at Congregation Beth Israel follows discussions with synagogue officials, including congregant Jordan Menashe, and Mayor Ted Wheeler’s Office, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury’s office, and the Joint Office of Homeless Services.

“The Jewish people are taught that we ‘cannot stand idly by’ while our neighbor bleeds,” said Rabbi Michael Cahana, citing Leviticus 19:16. “Congregation Beth Israel is honored to join with business leaders and our city and county government in creating a warm and safe environment for homeless families to shelter overnight from the cold.”

“We are particularly pleased that we could open this shelter on what was for us the first night of Hannukah – the Jewish ‘Festival of Lights,’” he added. “We join with our partners in bringing more light to a darkened world. May we all make our world a little bit brighter.”

“This a great example of our private and faith-based partners coming together to help the most vulnerable people in our community,” Mayor Wheeler said. “Thank you, Jordan Menashe and Congregation Beth Israel for your invaluable partnership sheltering homeless families this winter.”

Families hoping to come to the shelter must first call 211, to learn if space is available, and then to schedule an intake appointment. Families sleeping outside with no other options will have priority for access. Families won’t be admitted without first scheduling an intake.

Families will receive hot dinner daily and then breakfast in the morning. Other amenities include play spaces and special programming for kids, along with an “awake room.”

Once enrolled, guests will be able to sleep at the shelter for as many days as they need. Families can also store their belongings at the shelter and keep any service animals with them. That means no one will need to line up outside at night to win a space, or carry around their personal items, as they go about their lives or access services during the day.

Every day, a portion of the families staying in shelter will be able to come to Portland Homeless Family Solutions’ day center, where they’ll have access to showers, lunch and computers.

“Every day we’re hearing from more and more families who need help. We’ve invested more than ever in homeless services and housing to help thousands of people a year," Chair Kafoury said. “But we know we can’t do it alone. Thankfully, the faith community remains a strong partner in this work.”

Staff at Portland Homeless Family Solutions (PHFS) are also asking for volunteers and donations, including sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, toothbrushes and toothpaste, coats, and non-perishable food items. Email bethany@pdxhfs.org to volunteer or emma@pdxhfs.org to learn about donations.

“While we believe the solution to homelessness is helping families move into homes, we also acknowledge that our community is short 28,000 units of housing for every family who needs a home,” said Brandi Tuck, director of Portland Homeless Family Solutions. “Until we build enough housing, we have to open emergency shelters so children and their parents can sleep indoors this winter. Portland Homeless Family Solutions is proud to step up to meet this critical need in our community in partnership with Congregation Beth Israel.”

Seasonal and severe-weather beds

Multnomah County and Portland are providing hundreds of other seasonal beds this winter, in addition to the more than 1,300 year-round beds in the community.

Starting Monday, Dec. 11, the Salvation Army Female Emergency Shelter (SAFES), at 30 SW 2nd Ave., Portland, began offering space for more than 30 additional women through March.

In addition, Transition Projects is operating a seasonal shelter for 75 men in the basement of the county’s Mead Building, 421 SW 5th Ave. Transition Projects is also operating the Columbia Shelter inside the old Shleifer Furniture building, 509 SE Grand, with beds for 100 people, including men, women and some couples.

These seasonal spaces are open daily all winter, no matter how mild or cold the forecast is expected to be on a given night.

Beyond those seasonal beds, Portland and Multnomah County stand ready to open hundreds of additional beds during severe weather. The Joint Office of Homeless Services declared severe weather Sunday, Dec. 10, for the first time this season. On Tuesday, Dec. 12, nearly 300 people stayed in those additional severe weather beds.

Severe weather beds will remain open Wednesday night in and near downtown Portland. Anyone who needs a warm space during severe weather should call 211 for information and to arrange transportation to shelter as needed. No one who calls seeking shelter will be turned away and will be transported as needed.

Donate winter gear!
Please donate winter gear

Providers are also renewing their call for donated winter gear in light of tonight’s forecast. Because it’s early in the season, many neighbors sleeping without shelter have not yet assembled all the gear they’ll rely on this winter to stay warm.

Please visit 211info.org/donations to see a specific list of winter gear and where it can be dropped off. Providers also have an online shopping list to make donating more convenient. Items ordered online can be delivered directly to JOIN, 1435 NE 81st Ave., Suite 100, Portland, OR, 97213

The following items are needed:

● Thick socks

● Waterproof/resistant gloves or mittens (preferably dark colors/black)

● Waterproof/resistant winter coats (men’s and women’s sizes)

● Sleeping bags and warm blankets

● Waterproof/resistant hats (preferably dark colors/black)

● Knit hats (preferably dark colors/black)

● Tarps (preferably brown, dark colors)

● Hand warmers

● Rain ponchos

The Joint Office of Homeless Services will continue to monitor weather conditions and open emergency warming centers as needed. Officials have worked with providers already this winter, before severe weather, to open hundreds of seasonal beds in Multnomah County that will be open nightly all winter long. Those beds are in addition to nearly 1,400 beds open year-round.

How to help neighbors in distress

If you see someone outside unsheltered whose life appears to be in danger or is in an apparent medical crisis, call 911. Otherwise, if you see someone about whom you are concerned, such as not being dressed for the weather conditions, call police non-emergency (503) 823-3333 and request a welfare check for that person.

To assist someone in locating shelter and transportation to shelter, please call 211.

Multnomah County offers mental health crisis resources, at any hour, for anyone experiencing a crisis. ental health clinicians can provide direct phone assistance to individuals experiencing a mental-health crisis including: escalated symptoms of agitation, anxiety, depression, psychosis, dangerous to self or others, substance use, etc. Call (503) 988-4888 or visit the Multnomah County Mental Health Crisis Intervention website for more information.