Officials prepare to support homeless in winter

4 homeless people died from hypothermia last winter

A line of homeless campers set up along 10th between Columbia and Clay in freezing temperatures on January 10, 2017. Four people have died from hypothermia in January. (KOIN)
A line of homeless campers set up along 10th between Columbia and Clay in freezing temperatures on January 10, 2017. Four people have died from hypothermia in January. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — City and county leaders aren’t waiting for extreme winter weather to make sure the homeless population has shelter.

The new rapid response plan from the Joint Office of Homeless Services and its partners says this year’s plan is the product of unprecedented collaboration between state and local agencies. They’re promising that no one who needs a warm, safe, dry place during severe weather will ever be turned away.

“This year is completely different in terms of the preparation, the planning,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said.

The severity of last year’s cold and snow in December and then the major event in January caught everybody off guard. Four people died on the streets in January 2017 from hypothermia.

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“I don’t think anyone could have predicted the intensity, the sheer number of days that the roads were closed, that the snow as bearing down, that we had ice outside,” Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said. “This year we’er really preparing for the worst and hoping that the worst doesn’t come.”

That’s part of the reason plans for this winter are already being locked in.

The Joint Office of Homeless Services will declare severe weather event whenever any of several conditions are met:
–Temperatures forecast at 25 degrees or colder
–Forecasts call for at least an inch of snow in most areas
–Overnight temperatures are 32 degrees or below with at least an inch of rain
–Sever wind chill is expected

Officials also said the Eagle Creek Fire helped state and local agencies solidify communication efforts, making it easier to get all hands on deck when the time comes.

This year, the county and city will be able to play larger and more defined roles in supporting the expansion of shelter and outreach operations.

“We will have people walking the streets who are checking in on people,” Wheeler said.

Kafoury said officials will open publicly owned buildings where people are in need and more shelter opportunities exist than ever before. Officials are also asking, earlier than before, for volunteers to staff shelters and donate winter gear.

“There is not a time of year where experiencing homelessness is acceptable,” Transition Projects Director George Devendorf said. “But we know in wintertime it’s potentially lethal.”