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Homeless community rallied to keep warm

Freezing temperatures last week caused a handful of homeless Portlanders’ deaths. The number of those who died in the storm last week is unknown presently. The death toll would have been higher if not for the selfless and tireless efforts of homeless activists, homeless shelters and members of the greater Portland community.

The Portland Rescue Mission, a faith-based homeless shelter, made space for over 175 homeless people during the storm. The Mission filled their chapel and foyer and were preparing to make space on the kitchen floor, but the need for refuge from the storm waned as a result of what Madalin Willing, the Development Associate for the Mission, called an “incredible amount of good communication and networking among shelters, the fire department, and the police.”

With a small amount of news media coverage, the Mission received coats, blankets, socks, gloves, soup, and snacks. “An inordinate amount of coats and blankets were donated, we filled half a room,” Willing said. “We had enough coats and blankets for everyone…it was wonderful to see the concern for the homeless from the general public.”

The Mission also has 30 permanent beds for men transitioning out of homelessness. Willing wanted to make clear the efforts of these “men in New Life Program, they took care of the needs of those seeking shelter, more than they needed to.” Employees of the Mission had difficulties traveling through the storm to work.

Staff at the YWCA homeless shelter in North Portland and at the domestic violence shelter, the Wolanda House, also experienced difficulties in traveling to work and some had to stay longer than normal, Kathy Cooney, the Associate Executive Director of the Portland YMCA said. The North Portland shelter was at full capacity during the storm and the Wolanda House took in new clients during the storm.

Willing praised the city of Portland, saying. “They were ready to do whatever was needed to be done.” The city allowed an increase in the capacity limit at the Portland Rescue Mission.

Dignity Village, a mobile tent city for the homeless had its electricity cut off by the city a couple days before Christmas, according to Jack Tafari, the vice chairman of Dignity Village. With no electricity the innovative members of Dignity Village switched their power source over to a gas-powered generator. Villagers “hunkered down by the wood stove in the common area” to stay warm, Tafari said. The Village did run short of firewood.

Due to broken water pipes, the showers at the Village “froze up solid … women who work at Fred Meyer’s had to go to work dirty,” Tafari said, “no one at Dignity Village perished under an overpass from the cold during the winter freeze, we are organized, tough, and resourceful. The power of community is quite strong here.”

Although the Villagers were frozen in solid during the storm, with vehicles unable to get in or out, “we are getting it back together,” Tafari said. A Village member called Cowboy worked for over 12 hours and got the showers running again. The Street Roots office also opened up during the storm for refuge seekers.

“We have a policy here that if the temperature drops below 40 degrees we open the office,” Mike D, the secretary of the board of directors at Street Roots said. “We would rather open our place as a shelter than hear of someone freezing to death … it’s the proper thing to do and is valuable to the community,” Mike D said.

Although the Street Roots office is small and has few resources besides a bathroom, microwave, and coffee maker, it still managed to provide shelter for those in need. “We were glad to see that the people in the area around here [Southwest Morrison] found shelter, except for those who died,” Mike D said.

Mike D somberly said that a handful of homeless Portlanders died. The medical examiner is still notifying the next of kin, “we don’t know their names yet,” Mike D said.