Work begins to winterize COVID-19 outdoor shelters with installation of personal pods at Old Town location

November 20, 2020

The Old Town COVID-19 outdoor shelter under construction in April 2020.
With cold weather arriving at a time when COVID-19 is surging, work will begin Monday, Nov. 23, to prepare the Joint Office of Homeless Services' three COVID-19 outdoor emergency shelters for their first full winter. 

The winterization project will start at the shelter in Old Town. Workers from Pallet — a Washington state company that’s provided temporary shelter units to communities throughout the United States — will begin replacing tents with 40 shelter pods that offer walls, electric heating, light and better protection from the elements in COVID-safe spaces. 

The shelter pods, which can be quickly assembled and disassembled on-site, will allow guests at the outdoor shelters to continue building their communities and practicing social distancing at a time when the weather would otherwise make an outdoor setting challenging for shelter.

The design of the shelter structures also makes them easy to clean when transitioning between occupants, another important consideration during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pallet shelters have a useful life of 10 years and can be set up, taken down, and reused multiple times as needs and locations for outdoor shelters change.

Work to winterize the community’s remaining two outdoor shelters, both on S.E. Water Avenue, is scheduled to take place early next month. 

“Every one of our neighbors experiencing homelessness should know that we will always seek ways to help keep them safe,” Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said. “As our staff work tirelessly to help people on the path back to a home, we have to work just as hard to ensure that our unhoused neighbors have the resources they need to stay as safe as possible — especially as the temperatures become life-threatening."

“Thank you to the Joint Office, Multnomah County and our nonprofit partners for working together to provide our most vulnerable neighbors with compassionate, warm, dry and safe spaces during the cold winter and spring months,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said. “The structures being built at our emergency outdoor shelters will help our unhoused community members transition into a life of stability.”

The outdoor emergency shelters first opened in April — offering not just a supportive community environment, but also regular meals, drinking water, showers, sinks and restrooms to more than 100 people who’d otherwise have to manage in a pandemic without shelter and other basic necessities.

They have helped fill a gap in services at a time when life-saving physical-distancing measures have limited the number of places people can be during the day.

The City of Portland funds the three shelters, which are managed through a contract with Right 2 Dream Too. The sites were designed in partnership with Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty’s offices, the City/County Joint Office, and a team of advocates and nonprofit providers.

“We know how important it is to provide our houseless community members with a safe, humane, and dignified living space, especially as we enter cold weather conditions,” Commissioner Hardesty said. “I appreciate the work that has gone into finding creative solutions like these shelter pods to make sure these villagers are able to get through both the harsh winter weather and COVID-19.”

The winterization work, which also includes weatherized platforms constructed by Portland-based company Cascadia Clusters, is being funded by the City/County Joint Office, with CARES Act funds, and by the City’s Emergency Command Center.

Since February, the City, Multnomah County and the Joint Office have been working to help people experiencing homelessness stay safe in the face of COVID-19 whether they were in shelters or living outside.

The City opened public restrooms and added 135 portable restrooms and handwashing stations throughout the community. Beyond work to open outdoor shelters, the Joint Office and Multnomah County Emergency Management maintained access to hundreds of shelter beds, despite the need for physical distancing, first by spreading services to new buildings, and then by moving vulnerable people to motels.

Most recently, the Joint Office and partners Do Good Multnomah and Transition Projects opened 175 additional indoor shelter beds for winter, and are planning for the opening of another 90 physically distanced indoor beds in Old Town.

Throughout COVID-19, the Joint Office has also been supplying community partners and volunteers with life-saving gear to share with people in camps, including thousands of blankets, tents, and sleeping bags, more than 110,000 masks, and hundreds of gallons of sanitizer and water. Learn more at ahomeforeveryone.net/covid-homelessness.