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Monday, December 9, 2013

Cold Weather on the Streets: Where to Go, What People Need

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Mon, Dec 9, 2013 at 3:35 PM

They were standing with a group of young people outside Union Gospel Mission. He was wearing snowpants and boots, two jackets and a hat. She was without a hat, in a jacket and gloves, and shivering as she asked me for a smoke. Which I didn't have.

Almost as soon as we started talking, a man walked by the group, the rest of them huddling on a blanket in front of a packed Fred Meyer cart, and handed over a package so precious it was immediately torn open to shouts of thank you: thick warm socks. A whole dozen of them.

"It's cold enough to get me to want to break into that place there," the man I spoke with said while pointing to the Sinnott House under forever construction across SW Couch. "We need somewhere we can go and stay there and stay warm."

The woman looked at me and said "This is like New York."

He chimed in again, "We're cuddling together in big groups."

They all looked miserable. And then they started getting their stuff together so they could head in for Union Gospel Mission's regular afternoon snack time at 2 pm.

It's been like this in a lot of places downtown and all throughout Portland over the weekend, thanks to a record cold snap unlike anything we've seen in the past decade. And for all the pain in the streets, there's been a flurry of activity among provider and government agencies in hopes of dulling it. (HIT THE JUMP FOR A LIST OF SHELTER SPACE AVAILABLE TONIGHT.)

"You're never sure that its enough," says Marc Jolin of JOIN, one of the housing and services providers helping coordinate the region's response. "You're never sure you're getting to everybody."

The Portland Housing Bureau, Commissioner Dan Saltzman's office, Multnomah County, and a panoply of providers have now spent days in "severe weather" mode, holding daily conference calls and relying on 211 to transmit information about emergency shelters and warming centers. (For those who don't know, 211 is the number you call in Oregon—24 hours a day—for information about and referrals to social services providers.)

Providers, from Right 2 Dream Too to Transition Projects to JOIN to Portland Rescue Mission have been putting out desperate calls for gear: blankets, sleeping bags, shoes, socks, everything. They were short in supplies after a cold snap around Thanksgiving. But after putting out the word for help, things have been better. And yet, they still need more.

Even the police bureau has taken a more formal role in helping out. All weekend, after midnight, 211 has been working with police dispatchers to get officers out picking up people who call in and want shelter and can't otherwise get there on their own. Until this cold snap, 211 would call social services providers at home to see if they could help someone calling after midnight. All told, the bureau says it's helped 20 people (27 others refused transport).

"This is about life and death," says Central Precinct Commander Bob Day, who told me that some of his officers and sergeants had already been doing this informally last week before Day spoke with Jolin and proposed starting this up citywide. "We've had an amazing response from the officers. I thought this would be a hard sell. But I have been so impressed. There's been no pushback."

Day acknowledged that some people didn't want to go with an officer. That's not surprising, given law enforcement's role in enforcing complaints and sweeping camps during better weather. Jolin says he's talking with officials about some other way to help people after midnight.

Dan Herman, 211's chief executive, and Troy Hammon, the service's operations chief, both said this cold snap has been among the worst they can remember and among the busiest for 211. Almost 100 people a day have called in either explicitly seeking shelter or about some other issue that makes clear they also need shelter. Herman says last Friday was the busiest on record for 211's website, 211info.org.

Hammond says it's been eight days of crisis mode, with more to come. The second-longest spurt, he says, was four days.

"This has gone on longer than anything else in the last four years for us," Hammond says.

The story was the same over at Right 2 Dream Too, which has only been open for the past two years at NW 4th and Burnside. Folks working there said it's been bitterly cold in their tents, but manageable with sleeping bags and blankets. Many of their overnight sleepers have hit up warming shelters, coming back to get even more sleep during the day.

One big complication has been condensation in tents—caused by warm breath hitting the cold tent fabric. That condensation has been freezing at night and then melting all at once during the day. The site's dishwashing tubs and water also have frozen solid. They've been making their normal requests—for shoes, underwear (men's and women's), thermals, chapstick, sleeping bags, hand warmers, and blankets—stuff they collect for their own site but also share with folks sleeping under bridges and in doorways.

But now they need paper plates and cups and bowls, too.

"It's still better than the sidewalk," one of the volunteers told me.

Here's 211's list of what's open, and when. Even if you've got someplace warm to be tonight, maybe a neighbor or someone else doesn't.

Family Winter Shelter
12505 NE Halsey Street, Portland Oregon (on Halsey near 126th Avenue)
This is a walk-in facility. It is not necessary to call beforehand. No one will be turned away.
Dates: Seven nights a week throughout winter season
Hours: 7:00 PM - 7:00 AM
Serves: Families with children under 18 and women in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy

Women’s Winter Shelter
Check availability at Bud Clark Commons, 650 NW Irving,
Walk in Mon-Fri 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM, Sat/Sun 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM
or call 503-280-4700
Dates: Seven nights a week throughout winter season
Hours: 7:00 PM - 7:00 AM
Serves: Single women

Red Cross Severe Weather Emergency Warming Center at Imago Dei Church

1302 Ankeny Street, (near 13th Avenue in Inner SE)
This is a walk-in facility. Pets allowed, some space for carts, accessible location
Dates: Evening of Monday, December 9
Hours: 9:00 PM - 7:00 AM
Serves: Families, single adults, and youths
Transportation: Bus #12, 19 and 20 from Union Gospel Mission

Union Gospel Mission
15 NW 3rd Avenue, 503-228-0319
This is a walk-in facility.
Dates: Evenings of Monday, December 9 and Tuesday, December 10
Hours: 9:30 PM - 6:00 AM
Serves: Families, single adults, and youths

First Baptist Church
224 W Powell, Gresham
This is a walk-in facility.
Dates: Monday, December 9
Hours: 1:00 PM - 7:00 AM
Serves: Single adults with limited space for families

Red Sea Community Church
7535 N Chicago Avenue
This is a walk-in facility.
Dates: Evening of Monday, December 9
Hours: 8:00 PM - 8:00 AM
Serves: Single adults with limited space for families

The following expanded day center service is available during the Severe Weather Notice:

Dignity Village
9401 NE Sunderland Avenue, 503-281-1604
Hot showers available.
Dates: Seven days a week during winter season
Hours: 8:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Serves: Adults 18 and older

JOIN
1435 NE 81st Avenue
This is a walk-in facility.
Dates: Monday, December 9 and Tuesday, December 10
Hours: 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Serves: Families, single adults and youths

Red and Black Cafe
400 SE 12th Avenue, 503-231-3899
Provides warming space in cafe, no purchase necessary
Dates: Monday, December 9
Hours: 10:30 AM - 10:00 PM
Serves: All

Rose Haven
627 NW 18th Avenue, 503-248-6364
Dates: Monday, December 9
Hours: 8:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Serves: Women and children

Saint André Bessette Catholic Church (Downtown Chapel)
601 W Burnside Street, 503-228-0746
Provides hot beverages, some snacks and movies
Dates: Unable to confirm
Hours: 9:00 AM – 4:30 PM
Serves: Adults

Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church
330 SE 11th Avenue, 503.232.5880
Dates: Monday, December 9 through Tuesday, December 10
Hours: Approximately 7:15 AM – 8:45 PM

Union Gospel Mission
15 NW 3rd Avenue, 503-228-0319
This is a walk-in facility. Meal will be served.
Dates: Monday, December 9 and Tuesday, December 10
Hours: 10:00 AM - 4:30 PM and 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Serves: Families, single adults, and youths

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