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Multnomah County, Portland 'Preparing For The Worst' This Winter


Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury speaks at a press conference announcing the county's severe winter weather plan.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury speaks at a press conference announcing the county’s severe winter weather plan.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra/OPB

Standing between city and county leaders, John Sherman pointed to the corner of the Bud Clark Commons room in downtown Portland where he slept when he was homeless.

“I can only speak for myself as a person in recovery when I say that had I been stuck outside when the wind was blowing and the ice was everywhere, I may have looked to alcohol to get me through,” said Sherman, now Transition Projects’ peer health navigator. “I know now that this is a recipe for tragedy.”

On Tuesday, Sherman spoke alongside Multnomah County and city leaders about the lessons learned from last winter ­— a year of record-breaking snowfall and trouble for officials dealing with a rise in homelessness.

“We were talking about the upcoming winter at this time last year, but I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted the level of intensity, the sheer number of days that the roads were closed, that the snow was bearing down, that we have ice outside,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury.

“This year we’re really preparing for the worst, and hoping that the worst doesn’t come.” 

The severe winter weather plan involves opening one or more shelters with hundreds of beds at the ready. The shelters will include spaces for carts, bikes and pets.

The plan would take effect when the Joint Office declares a severe weather event. The threshold for such a declaration includes temperatures forecast at 25 degrees Fahrenheit or below or at least an inch of snow in most areas. It also includes overnight temperatures forecast at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below with at least an inch of rain.

“This year is completely different in terms of the preparation, the planning, the collaboration, the protocols that we’ve put into place, the communications system we put into place, thinking in advance about the opportunities around community participation and volunteerism,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said.

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