Winter shelters open Nov. 1 to serve families without homes

Thursday, 10/31/13 - 4:54 pm

The community’s annual ramped-up response for the winter homeless season begins on Nov. 1 and it’s important for everybody to remember that 2-1-1 is the key phone number for information about what services are available.

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners heard that piece of information as part of a broader briefing about what extra services for homeless people kick in starting Nov. 1 on top of the year-round services.

Mary Li, senior manager in the Department of County Human Services, said the extra response for the cold weather runs through mid- to late-April.

There are 636 emergency shelter beds available year-round, and about 340 additional beds available during the winter season. Up to 150 more beds are available when a “severe weather” notice is declared, triggered by a temperature/wind chill of 25 degrees Fahrenheit or other life-threatening cold weather conditions.

Among the winter-weather additions highlighted at the Oct. 31 board briefing were a warming center at Parkrose Community United Church of Christ for families with children, day/night overflow capacity at Highland Christian Center, a women’s winter shelter near Bud Clark Commons, extra beds for the cold weather at the Salvation Army Female Emergency Shelter and at the Portland Rescue Mission.

“The very simplest thing we can say is to call 211Info and they will have that information,” said Li, who was joined in her board presentation by Traci Manning, director of the Portland Housing Bureau.

Keeping people safe “is our number one goal,” Li said at the briefing.

Other important goals Li listed include a no-turnaway policy for families with children and good communication with the county’s partners in the cities of Portland and Gresham as well as with nonprofits and faith partners.

The county board also heard a briefing earlier at its regularly scheduled Oct. 31 meeting from Li and county Library Director Vailey Oehlke about a recent survey of 1,028 patrons -- 834 at the Central Library and 194 -- to assess homelessness and the need for supportive services.

Among the recommendations prompted by the survey responses was the need to add library branches to the locations that regular county outreach activities, more training for library staff.

“We did not find inappropriate use of the libraries by homeless people,” Li said. “It really has more to do with perception … The truth is none of us can tell who is homeless or housed at any given time.”