Multnomah and Washington Counties gear up to protect the homeless during upcoming winter weather.
City and County officials are working furiously to add shelter capacity ahead of the upcoming winter season. While winter of course comes every year, this season is expected to be particularly cold, right at the same time that homelessness is increasing rapidly in the Portland metro region.
It's clear that the public supports increasing shelter capacity. After years of an increasingly visible homelessness crisis, residents are becoming less tolerant of people camping on their sidewalks and the "People for Portland" campaign is flooding the in-boxes of elected officials with demands for change.
Homelessness is expected to worsen over the winter, due at least in part to the expiration of pandemic eviction protections. As multiple sources have reported, the number of eviction filings in local courts has skyrocketed, meaning more and more people will likely find themselves living on the streets during the coldest months of the year.
Last week Multnomah County's "Joint Office of Homeless Services" (JOHS), a collaboration between the County and the City of Portland, announced that it had secured a large site in North Portland that will serve as a winter shelter this year. The site, which is on the site of a former Rite-Aid store, includes both inside shelter beds and outdoor "sleeping pods" with a combined capacity of serving 70 people.
The new Arbor Lodge site is one of many seasonal shelters that have opened in Multnomah County for the winter. The Joint Office of Homeless Services is also funding the Walnut Park Shelter in northeast Portland, which has 80 beds, and the Downtown Winter Shelter which has 96 beds.
If "severe weather" thresholds are met, due to significant snow, ice, and/or low temperatures, an additional 245 shelters beds will open. Beds are all "low barrier" meaning that people do not have to be clean and sober to stay on-site, as long as their behavior is not excessively disruptive.
These beds are in addition to about 1,400 year-round shelter beds operated throughout the county.
Washington County has also opened three winter shelter sites, one each in Tigard, Beaverton, and Hillsboro. Those sites are expected to remain open through mid-March.
Clackamas County has allocated funding to open additional shelter sites as well, although no announcements have been made about locations as of this writing.
All shelters operate in collaboration with local social services providers, and rely on community volunteers as well as donations to help guests. Those looking for shelter or who want to help should call 2-1-1 or go to 211info.org.
The addition of new shelter beds in Clackamas and Washington Counties will also help relieve some of the burden on the Multnomah County shelter system, which for years has borne the brunt of sheltering the majority of the region's homeless population. Multnomah County and the City of Portland have increasingly made significant investments in addressing the homelessness crisis, but that same sense of urgency has not been shown in neighboring counties.
The City of Portland and Multnomah County spend a combined $150 million on homeless services and recently pledged another $38 million to help with the crisis.
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