Warming Shelters and Homelessness

Updated Oct. 30, 2020

When It's Cold Outside

If someone outside is unsheltered and you are concerned they could be in danger due to cold weather, call 9-1-1 and request a welfare check. To help someone locate shelter and for transportation to shelter, please call 2-1-1 or go online at 211info.org.

Some plans will change this year because of COVID-19. But the fundamentals of our cold and severe weather response will remain the same.

On nights when severe weather is declared, the Joint Office of Homeless Services and its partners will open extra night-time shelter capacity. Those beds will be in addition to 1,400-plus government-funded beds that remain open year-round, and hundreds of additional seasonal beds that will be open every night of the winter, no matter the forecast on any given night.   

In addition, the 275 new winter beds coming online this year will also be open 24 hours. That's a first for winter-only shelter in our community. And beds at another seasonal shelter, Walnut Park, which opened two years ago but never closed and stayed open ever since, will also be open 24 hours this winter. 

What that means:

  • Between our year-round and winter beds, we will have nearly 1,700 24-hour beds in operation every night this winter. That doesn't include any beds operated by private or faith-based shelter providers.
  • And then, on nights when our severe weather thresholds are met, we will stand up even more beds and keep those extra beds open for the duration of a particular severe weather event.

All shelter beds in our system, whether open all year, all winter or just on the coldest nights, will be compliant with COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

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 help someone find shelter and arrange transportation to shelter, please call 211.

Multnomah County offers mental health crisis resources, at any hour, for anyone experiencing a crisis. Mental 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.

COVID-19 and Severe Weather Planning

A Home for Everyone is a collaboration between Multnomah County and the City of Portland and other partners in the community. The partners, supported by the Joint Office of Homeless Services, operate shelters year-round for people experiencing homeless and add hundreds of beds open all winter. Beyond those year-round and seasonal beds, partners open additional warming shelters when severe weather hits to keep hundreds of people safe, generally 10 to 20 times each year.

Joint Office staff monitor weather conditions and open emergency warming centers as needed. Warming shelters may open when:

  • Temperatures are forecast at 25 degrees or below
  • Forecasters predict an inch or more of snow  
  • Overnight temperatures drop below 32 degrees, with an inch of driving rain.
  • Other conditions occur as needed, including severe wind chills or extreme temperature fluctuations

But because of COVID-19, elements of the response plan will have to change this year. Normally on severe weather nights, one of the Joint Office's contracted partners, Transition Projects, would open one or more shelters — with just a few hours' notice — based on need and location. Traditionally, those sites were the Bud Clark Commons, Imago Dei and the Sunrise Center.

This year, because of the need for physical distancing and other safety protocols, those sites will either not be available or able to offer the same capacity. We will need different and larger sites, and are working on obtaining both. What won't change: The sites we open will remain low-barrier shelters with access for bikes, carts and pets. 211info will also move to 24-hour operations and continue to share information about shelter options and donation needs, while coordinating transportation to shelter during severe weather events. 

Guide for Potential Severe Weather Sites

We're looking for spaces in the central city, in east Portland and in Gresham. We will likely need 3 to 5 large spaces. If you have any leads, please email johs@multco.us.

Ideally, these spaces will be accessible, vs. remote or difficult to reach,  so people will be able — and, more importantly, will actually want — to come into them. We'd also need to be able to access these spaces on demand, with just a few hours notice, so we can be ready quickly on nights when our severe weather thresholds are reached. 

Within those general standards, we can use any space that has:

  • 5,000 or more square feet
  • Bathrooms — more are better, but even a few stalls is enough for these purposes.
  • An area where the provider can store mats, blankets, and other gear, or a parking space outside to place a POD for storage.

We can use any kind of large open space - a gymnasium, a cafeteria, a large meeting hall or ballroom, even an open concept floor of offices. It 's preferable if the space:

  • Is on the ground floor
  • Is directly accessible from the street and ADA accessible
  • Has a hard floor surface that’s easy to clean
  • Can be used at night, but preferably also during the day if conditions require people to shelter in place.
  • Is easily accessible by mass transit
  • Can be left set up between uses (or at least accommodate supplies left supplies on site)

Donate the Right Winter Gear

Service providers and the Joint Office are asking for community donations of life-saving winter gear. Items especially important to donate items including waterproof hats, gloves, blankets, tarps, sleeping bags and coats. Those items, which are delivered regularly by outreach workers and volunteers across the community, help people during the day and on nights when thresholds for severe weather have not been met.

Please visit 211info.org/donations to see a specific list of winter gear and where it can be dropped off.

Providers also have online shopping lists to make also have online shopping lists to make donating more convenient, which means anyone can donate over the weekend, even if snow and ice have made roads difficult to traverse. Items ordered through JOIN's online shopping list can be delivered directly to JOIN's offices at 1435 NE 81st Ave., Suite 100, Portland, OR, 97213. JOIN is also taking donations in person at that address.

Transition Projects also offers an online shopping list, too. Deliveries can be sent to 665 NW Hoyt in downtown Portland. Transition Projects is also accepting in-person donations 24/7 at that address, and will bundle and share those items with other providers as needed.

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

We appreciate everyone's willingness to help, however they can. But please keep in mind: Some items, like home-cooked food, present health challenges around illnesses, allergies and germs — even from the most well-meaning donors — and can’t be accepted. In addition, volunteers and others working at shelter sites won’t have the capacity to track, clean and return food containers, flatware and other items left at shelter sites.

Train as a Shelter Volunteer

Volunteers at a warming shelter at Bud Clark Commons in 2019.
Transition Projects is providing special training sessions for adults 18 and older interested in volunteering at severe weather warming centers. Transition Projects opens and operates the first line of Severe Weather Shelter services (SWS) in Multnomah County.

When severe weather occurs, we need you ready to help vulnerable people get inside and have a safe place to sleep. You may be asked to work alongside Transition Projects staff or alongside staff and volunteers at other shelters that open as need grows over the course of a long severe weather event.

What you need to know: Shelter volunteer shifts are about as hands-on as this work gets. You should be comfortable working together with people experiencing homelessness, and you should plan to be on your feet and doing active work during these shifts. These shifts take place on the coldest nights of the year, so having reliable transportation in inclement weather is important.

How to sign up: Go to tinyurl.com/tpiswso2020 to start the process for orientation and training as a volunteer. Trainings provide an overview of what severe weather shelters are and why we do them; a brief run-through on what to expect, roles, and policies; and some basic de-escalation skills. 

Seasonal Shelters

In addition to the severe-weather beds that open only when certain weather thresholds are met, the Joint Office of Homeless Services also opens seasonal shelter beds every fall, winter and spring. These beds are open during those months no matter the forecast, from November through March. To make this work possible, the Joint Office works closely with experienced shelter operators, including Transition Projects and Do Good Multnomah. Other community partners not funded through the Joint Office also add winter shelter capacity.

Just like with year-round shelters, winter shelters are available only through reservations. Anyone interested in accessing shelter should contact 211.

Winter shelters for 2020-21 will open in November, with one exception: Charles Jordan Community Center opened in September. 

  • Charles Jordan Community Center; 100 beds, operated by Do Good Multnomah
  • Mt. Scott Community Center; 75 beds, operated by Joint Office staff
  • Former Greyhound station in Old Town; 100 beds, operated by Transition Projects. 

Cold Weather Alerts

Even when severe weather thresholds aren't met — but when overnight temperatures are forecast at 32 degrees or below, for roughly four hours or longer — the Joint Office will issue a "cold weather alert."

No severe weather beds will open during a cold weather alert. But providers will conduct additional and focused outreach to find vulnerable people, and they will have the ability to quickly obtain and distribute cold weather gear. Providers will step up coordination around information on resources and system shelter capacity.