Smoke from the Oregon wildfires darkens the sky over PSU's campus. Courtesy of Portland State University.

PSU offers free shelter at University Place Hotel for wildfire evacuees

As wildfires and smoke spread across the West Coast, PSU responds

Portland State announced Friday it would offer free rooms in University Place Hotel for the PSU community—including students, staff and faculty—and their families who have been forced to evacuate from their homes due to the wildfires burning across the Northwest. In addition, University Housing and Residence Life (UHRL) is allowing students signed up for on campus housing to move in early if they’ve been evacuated.

Wildfires are burning across the west coast with little containment. Among the largest are the Beachie Creek and Lionshead fires east of Salem, having burned over 190,000 and 168,000 acres of land respectively. Approximately 1,000,000 total acres of land have been burned in Oregon, according to the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, with 10 deaths and 22 people missing. 

“With tragic and historic fires burning across Oregon, [PSU] is offering a free room at University Place Hotel to any student or employee under an evacuation order due to wildfire,” University Communications stated. “As hazardous air quality continues in the region, we urge everyone in the PSU community to stay indoors as much as possible. The health and well being of the PSU family remains our top priority.”

The air quality across the state has also taken a significant hit due to smoke, reaching dangerously unhealthy levels. The hazardous air quality is expected to last through Thursday, according to the National Weather service—Oregonians are urged to remain indoors as much as possible. 

The dangerous levels of air quality continue to grip Portland, prompting PSU to release a campus alert Monday suspending non-essential on-campus work and instructing employees to work remotely, if they were not already doing so. 

The shelter in University Place Hotel is free of charge, and families are allowed to stay for up to two weeks as needed. Breakfast will be offered daily at no additional cost, and fees for pets and parking—which are usually $25 per pet and $18 per day, respectively—have also been waived. 

Campus Public Safety Officers will patrol the University Place Hotel parking more frequently, according to University Place Hotel General Manager Antionio Recillas, in order to protect guest’s possessions in their cars—which, for many of the families seeking shelter, is all they were able to bring after being forced to evacuate. 

Since the announcement, 91 rooms have been filled by PSU families in University Place Hotel, according to Recillas. The hotel has multiple blocks of rooms set aside for community members who have been affected by current crises. 

While prioritizing the PSU community in need of a place to stay after evacuating, University Place Hotel is also offering a special rate for people unaffiliated with PSU, but who are still in need of shelter from the wildfires. 

Two new blocks of rooms were set aside in the last two days for Oregonians fleeing wildfires, by request of the Oregon Governor’s office and Multnomah County Office of Emergency Management, in the event that county shelters reach capacity and more people need a place to stay. 

“The governor’s office called, and they were looking for additional rooms, because they were concerned that some of the shelters that they have in different counties, like Multnomah County and other places, might be over capacity, and they needed a place to be able to have some people go if they needed to,” Recillas said. 

University Place Hotel has also had a block of rooms reserved for first responders since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We have rooms available for first responders, emergency workers and people alike, that need a break sometimes, like from OHSU,” Recillas said. “They didn’t want to go home…and there were concerns, because they were working with patients, that they didn’t want to expose their families.”

In total, 134 people are sheltering in the hotel, the majority of whom consist of PSU community members and their families.

“We kept the channels open so if someone wants to make a reservation because they need to have a room, they’re able to come in and do that. But we’re going to prioritize PSU families first,” Recillas said. “We would rather serve the community than make money.”

While University Place Hotel is offering hotel rooms to the community, UHRL is also offering to let students who need shelter, who have signed up for housing in the Fall move into their dorms early. Five students have chosen to move in early thus far, according to Associate Director of Housing Operations Lindsey Gibson, and UHRL is still accepting requests to do so. For all other students, move-in days begin on Sept. 24. 

Dylan Jefferies contributed to this report.