PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) – The first of three outdoor emergency shelters opened Thursday in southeast Portland.
It's a joint effort between Multnomah County, nonprofit JOIN, and several other partners. The site that opened is off Southeast Water Avenue and Southeast Main Street. Denis Theriault with the Joint Office of Homeless Services says it will have about 36 tents.
On Thursday afternoon, there were a couple of tents set up at the lot, as more were expected to move in soon. Theriault says this is all an effort to find safe space for those who have nowhere to go during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Right now, there aren’t a lot of places to go during the day," Theriault said. "Libraries are closed. Cafes like Starbucks, closed. Restaurants, other kinds places like that you can’t get to them now. So folks don’t have a lot of places to be and so this is another option for folks to have somewhere else to go."
Theriault says the COVID-19 pandemic posed some unique challenges in figuring out how to house those living on the streets, but still finding a way to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
He says there were 400 shelter beds moved out of existing shelters into extension sites like the Oregon Convention Center and three different community centers.
Theriault says the winter shelter also stayed open and the three additional outdoor emergency shelters are an extension of their efforts.
"All of this work is because we know that those folks are more vulnerable to serious symptoms," Theriault said. "Folks who are outside are no more likely than anyone else right now to transmit or even contract this illness. It’s in our community but they are more likely to suffer serious symptoms."
At these three sites, Theriault says, those staying there will have access to electricity to charge a cell phone, access to a shower truck, meals provided, as well as several bathrooms and hand-washing stations.
He says the sites will also be secure with one single point of entry and a check-in desk. The pallets with tents on them are set 10 feet apart to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Theriault says there won't be a lot of congregating in common spaces as the focus is on cleanliness and health.
"We need to remember that folks who are outside and even in our shelters, they are the most vulnerable among us," Theriault said. "And safety for our most vulnerable folks is safety for all of the rest of us."
Theriault says Thursday's site is prioritized for the LGTBQ community. The other two sites are set to open Monday.
Theriault says the second site at Southeast Water Avenue and Southeast Salmon Street will prioritize people of color. The third site near Northwest 6th and Glisan Street will be open to the general population.
Theriault says all three sites also prioritize women, people living with a disability, and the elderly.
Theriault says there was a screening process to get in through JOIN. Right now, he says JOIN is pausing its intake as its received enough applicants. But you can contact JOIN for more information by heading to its website: joinpdx.org
The county says shelter beds are beginning to open as well. Theriault says you can call 211 for more information.
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