When the Snow Hit, Portlanders Saved Lives By Volunteering at Homeless Shelters

"It spurred us to create a bigger safety net, and we did.”

COLD SNAP: During the ice storm on Jan. 8, James was sleeping in a tent near Skidmore Plaza under the west end of the Burnside Bridge. “I’m freezing,” he said. (Joe Riedl)

In early January, Portland was slapped with a long cold snap. It was hard on everyone, but especially the homeless—at least four people living outside on the streets of Portland died.

That tragedy helped galvanize ordinary Portland residents to prevent more deaths.

Vahid Brown, an advocate for the homeless who was one of the volunteers helping coordinate efforts across Multnomah County, recalls telling people: "There are people dying; we need to stop the deaths."

And so they did. At the end of a 19-day stretch of temperatures below 40 degrees, the county and city and a crew of volunteers had 800 beds available in emergency warming shelters.

(Illustration by Chiara Lanzieri)

Mayor Ted Wheeler took the unprecedented step of opening the Portland Building to the homeless.

But it was the volunteers who made it all work. Alongside one-time mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone, Brown helped open the Mount Scott Community Center for several nights—a location the city-county joint office on homelessness agreed to fund only after being guaranteed a volunteer workforce.

It took only a few hours to get the shifts filled for a weekend of work.

"My community stepped up in every way possible to make this happen—food, clothing, volunteering time," says Iannarone. "One woman, recently homeless, staffed our 'General Store' area for three nights in a row. Their dedication was tireless."

Kat Stevens, better known for helping lead the anti-Trump protests of Portland's Resistance, helped with calling, texting and emailing volunteers who stepped up not just to work shifts, but provide transportation between shelters—a crew of people with four-wheel-drive vehicles was key.

They are just a few of the many from St. Johns to Gresham who lent a hand.

An unprecedented outpouring of support was possible because homeless advocates have organized after working alongside each other on the homeless camp along the Springwater Corridor, which was among the largest homeless camps in the country during the summer.

Portland Houseless Support Coalition now has a list of 500 volunteers. And it put them to good use.

"[The homeless deaths] spurred us to try and do better. It spurred us to create a bigger safety net, and we did," Brown says.

Welcome to Reasons to Love Portland 2017

1. Portland Is Telling Donald Trump That He Won't Get Away With This
2. We're Rich! Portland Has The Nation's Fastest Growing GDP
3. Here's How Far Portlanders Have Ridden in the First Six Months of BikeTown
4. We're Very Happy That Portland Bartenders Can Finally Drink on The Job.
5. When the Snow Hit, Portlanders Saved Lives By Volunteering at Homeless Shelters
6. At Long Last, Portland Has The Kinky Coffee Shop It's Needed
7. A Selected List of All Portland's Recent Number 1 Rankings
8. Move Over PCT: You'll Soon Be Able to Mountain Bike From Washington to California
9. Oregon Has The Nation's Cheapest Weed. Thank God.
10. This is the Best Ski Season Mount Hood Has Had Since Obama Was a Senator
11. Nobody Snowdays Harder Than Portland
12. Portland Finally Has Architecture Worth Arguing About
13. Check Out This Crazy New Recording Studio in a Former Library in Deep Southeast
14. Weed Delivery Will Begin in Portland Any Day Now
15. In Portland, You Never, Ever Need To Call Domino's
16. Portland Is Home to the Most Liberal College in America. No, Not That One.
17. There's A Forgotten Wonder In Oregon City. It'll Soon Be Revealed
18. Portland's Blazers Bootleg T-Shirts Are Lit
19. Portland is Metal AF
20. ILOVEMAKONNEN Moved To Portland. No, For Real
21. Sorry, Donald, We Won't Help You Deport Our Neighbors.
22. Portland Now Has a Patriarchy-Free Social Club and Workspace
23. Oregon is the New Truffle King of the World
24. Check Out These Photos of the Winter Light Festival
25. In Portland, You Can See Every Movie Nominated For an Oscar in the Theater
26. Portland Art Museum is Tapping into the Legacy of Arguably Oregon's Greatest Artist
27. Yes, Portland Has More Pinball Machines Than New York and Los Angeles
28. Portland Has Vegan Everything. A Selected List.
29. In Portland, Dive Bars Never Really Die

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