City looks for money to open more winter shelters

From the Portland Tribune, November 7, 2011

Portland housing officials are preparing for cold weather by asking the City Council to increase funding for emergency warming shelters.

On Wednesday the council will consider a request from the Portland Housing Bureau for $367,000 for a number of nonprofit organizations that already provide similar services. The bureau says the money is needed to guarantee shelter and beds for the homeless and those without adequate shelter when temperatures drop below dangerous levels, as they are predicted to do in coming weeks or months.

“There remains a critical annual need for expanded winter shelter and services from November through April to safeguard the lives of vulnerable, unsheltered individuals from inclement weather conditions that pose a threat of severe illness and/or death due to exposure,” reads the ordinance, which was introduced by Housing Commissioner Nick Fish.

The money is in addition to approximately $2.3 million to the organizations already received from the city to help house the homeless. The organizations are the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and Transition Projects. According to the request, the funds are projected to provide emergency shelter for up to 300 people for a maximum of 15 nights. Shelters include the 70-bed shelter for women operated by Transition Projects.

Under city policies, new emergency warming shelters are to be opened under the following severe weather conditions:

    • Dry conditions – single night temperatures of 22 degrees or below, three or more nights of 25 degrees or below, and temperatures of 32 degrees and below with sustained winds of 15 miles per hour or greater.

    • Wet conditions – snow accumulations of one inch or more, temperatures of 32 degrees or below with driving rain of one inch or more, and temperatures of 32 degrees or below with winds forecast at 15 miles per hour or greater.

City standards for requesting existing shelters and warming centers to provide additional beds when severe weather alerts have not been issued include:

    • Dry conditions – temperatures of 25 degrees or below, or three nights of 27 degrees or below.

    • Wet Conditions – temperatures of 32 degrees or below with sticking snow or rain, temperatures of 33 to 35 degrees with heavy rain (about three-quarters of an inch overnight), or freezing rain.

A number of local meteorologists predicted the upcoming winter would be wetter and colder than usual at the 19th Annual Winter Weather Forecast sponsored by the Oregon chapter of the American Meteorological Society.

All five forecasters who made presentations agreed that La Nina weather conditions are still in force, which is likely to produce severe conditions across the Pacific Northwest. Last winter — when La Nina conditions were also in effect — featured two notable cold spells with low-level snow in late November and late February. It also featured lowland flooding along the Sandy River and record setting snowfall in the mountains.

Some forecasters went even further, however, suggesting that February may be the coldest month of the winter, with the best chances for low-level snow and an arctic outbreak.