Winter Shelter, Vaccination Clinic: Oregon Convention Center Juggling Two Challenges at Once

Multnomah County officials say there’s little to no chance of people queued up for different purposes encountering each other.

A Multnomah County worker prepares the Oregon Convention Center for use as a warming shelter on Feb. 10, 2021. (Motoya Nakamura / Multnomah County)

It's a measure of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that, over the past year, the Oregon Convention Center has been used as a homeless shelter, a COVID testing site, and a mass vaccination clinic.

Tomorrow, it's expected to be used for two of those purposes on the same day.

With a snowstorm barreling down on Portland, Multnomah County officials are setting up a warming shelter on the northwest side of the Convention Center in Portland's Rose Quarter. Meanwhile, on the southeast side of the same building, a vaccine clinic is distributing doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to people over the age of 80. (A drive-thru COVID testing site in the parking garage has been moved away from the location so the vaccines can be distributed.)

While that's a lot of people converging on one building, the Oregon Convention Center's footprint is more than 1 million square feet. And county officials say there's little to no chance of people queued up for different purposes encountering each other.

"We're pretty lucky we can all share a complex that's massive enough to hold so much important work—and to hold it all safely," says Denis Theriault, spokesman for the Joint Office of Homeless Services. "The shelter space will see most of its use after business hours and overnight, and has its own designated entrance and exit around the block from the main doors.

"Because of that distanced setup," he adds, "people coming to the Convention Center for other needs shouldn't be concerned they'll potentially expose any of their neighbors experiencing homelessness to COVID-19."

Meanwhile, the groups operating the mass vaccine clinic say they're monitoring the weather and currently have no plans to cancel vaccine appointments.

Information about vaccine appointments can be found here. Help for people sleeping outside seeking warmth can be found here.

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