PORTLAND, Ore. – In preparation for freezing temperatures, snow and ice in the Pacific Northwest this holiday weekend and next week, state officials in Oregon have declared an emergency and shelters are being opened throughout the region to help the homeless.
At least five severe weathers shelters in the Portland, Oregon, metro area will open at 3 p.m. on Christmas Day. And the city’s public transportation service will be free for people who need to get to a shelter. Seattle city leaders will open two severe weather shelters in the evenings starting Saturday through at least Wednesday.
“Local government is working hard to get people to a warm, dry place but we can’t be everywhere,” Dr. Jennifer Vines, the health officer for Multnomah County – home to Portland – said Friday. “As with the heat event almost six months ago to the day, we are asking all county residents to check on others, direct individuals to warming shelters and help hand out gear to keep people warm – and alive.”
In June a heat wave in the Northwest toppled all-time temperature records and killed hundreds.
Recent forecasts show at least an inch of snow is likely to fall by Sunday in the Seattle and Portland regions, which don’t typically see snow.
But forecasters and state officials say the main concern is cold temperatures in the region – with daytime highs next week struggling to reach above freezing – that are likely to impact people experiencing homelessness and those without adequate access to heating. Lows could reach the teens or lower in western Washington and Oregon, which typically experiences mild winters.
“Those are conditions that bring a high risk of danger to our neighbors who are surviving outside without a home,” Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said on Thursday.
As of 2019, the most recent data available, there were 4,015 people experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County – more than half were “unsheltered” or living outside.
Since Monday, the Joint Office of Homeless has distributed hundreds of sleeping bags, tents, socks, wool blankets, hand warmers, ponchos, winter hats and gloves to people in Multnomah County.
Officials also urged people to stay home if possible, check on neighbors and pets and help to keep sidewalks clear of snow and ice.
Along with Multnomah County and Portland, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued a state of emergency declaration Thursday evening to remain in effect through Jan. 3, saying expected snow and sustained temperatures below freezing could result in critical transportation failures and disruptions to power and communications infrastructure.
Brown’s declaration authorizes the Oregon Office of Emergency Management to activate state resources, and to use personnel, equipment, and facilities from other state agencies to respond to the weather emergency.
“I urge all Oregonians to make a plan with your family now and be prepared,” Brown said.
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