When Village Portland started to hear from several advocates that East and Southeast Portland might be missing 120 emergency warming shelter beds this winter it inspired us to investigate further.

Clackamas Service Center, Central Nazarene, and Sunnyside Methodist Church each housed an emergency warming shelter at their respective facilities in 2018 but two of those places probably won’t be able to operate as a shelter this year.

That would result in leaving over a hundred more houseless individuals who call the stretch of bike trail along I-205 home to face potentially freezing weather. 

According to their website, Joint Office of Homeless Services open emergency warming centers ten to 20 times a year:

Marc Jolin, director of the JOHS, wrote in an email on October 25th that they expect to have the same severe weather shelter capacity as they did last year. JOHS capacity doesn’t include Clackamas County or independent shelters.

According to Jolin, Nazarene and CSC were both Clackamas County operations last year, and said that he can’t speak to what they’re doing this season. Sunnyside was an independent project, and he’s aware that they won’t be open this year.

“We are currently in the process of finalizing our winter and severe weather shelter capacity plans,” Jolin stated, adding that a representative from his office would reach out to Village Portland when it was complete. We’re still waiting to hear back from them over two weeks later, and will update the story when we get the final plan.

“In terms of the region I have less information, but there is a table summarizing shelter capacity in this recent shelter study from the state,” he wrote.

State of Oregon: Oregon Statewide Shelter Study 

According to the 2019 Multnomah County Point-in-Time Count, even with the over 1,400 emergency warming shelter beds available more than 2,000 of Portland’s houseless remained on the street. 2019’s count also showed a significant increase, 22%, in the number of people living unsheltered on the streets.

The count indicated that this is because more volunteers conducted the outdoor portion of the count in 2019 than in previous years.

Volunteer and financial need

There are several reasons why each place were unsure about having a warming shelter at their facilities this winter. 

Clackamas Service Center was not only understaffed but also overcrowded at their facilities which resulted in unsatisfactory conditions on multiple occasions and some damages, said Krista Harper, CSC Volunteer Coordinator.

Costly cleaning and repairs from last year’s shelter are making them unsure of opening this year. Clackamas Service Center could only have around 24 guests for their shelter. CSC also paid their emergency shelter staff, another burden for the community supported non-profit.

We recently learned that Clackamas Service Center will be able to open their emergency warming shelter in partnership with non-profit Do Good Multnomah.

The organization “partners with the community to provide permanent supportive housing and low-barrier emergency shelter to houseless veterans in Portland” and accept referrals at their Wy’east Shelter here.

Central Nazarene, which has nearly completed opening a tiny house community called Agape Village, believes they will already have a difficult time providing proper support to the village and the warming shelter without more volunteers and financial support than was received last year. Because of that, pastor Matt Huff said their emergency last year probably won’t be open this year.

Depending on the number of volunteers they had for overnight shifts, they were able to have around 80 or more guests at their facilities and it will be the biggest loss of beds out of both.

We interviewed Huff as part of a story on church service work in Portland. Watch it below:

Sunnyside Methodist, however, has simply changed hands from last year and the group of volunteers who usually help with the warming shelter, Beacon PDX, were forced out by the new church. While all their situations might be inconveniencing to them it is the houseless of southeast Portland who will suffer the most from this. 

The volunteers of Beacon PDX are still trying to find another location for their work. Learn more about their story in the tribute below:

More volunteer effort

Jonathan Ogden is one of the organizers of the volunteer-run Montavilla Emergency Warming Shelter hosted at Saints Peter and Paul/San Pedro y San Pablo Episcopal Church on 82nd Avenue between E Burnside Street and SE Stark Street.

MEWS was begun by a small group of volunteers in the brutal winter of 2017. A core of six to eight volunteers held down the shifts and did training, and 20 to 40 neighbors ended up volunteering throughout that winter, he said.

From fund raising to cleaning to long overnight shifts, it was an impressive, massive effort from neighbors. We wrote about it here.

Ogden keeps in contact with the volunteer groups that organize the warming shelters, so we asked him some questions about preparations— beginning with his opinion on whether if the community was prepared for this season.

“No, not really, and since having taken a few of the only family shelters offline last year, there’s not been any plan to speak of as far as I’m aware,” he wrote.

211, a non-profit organization that connects people with health and social service organizations, told him that they have reached out to MEWS and Portland Assembly to make sure they were planning to run this year.

He said that they have learned a lot for this year based on their experience from previous years.

To connect with resoures, dial 2-1-1 on your phone, or visit

“Johnnie Shaver had started by himself a few years back and our Neighborhood Action Council decided to take up the project (help with training, resources, ect.) but he was super badass and definitely had it down to a science,” Ogden said. “There’s a good amount of documentation for this year to train more people,” he said.

If you’d like to support MEWS, there are two volunteer trainings in December, opportunities to donate, and a craft fair on December 14th all listed on their Facebook page.

He said that Wapato Jail is a solution the PPA is pushing, but he said he thinks it’s “jail light”, too far away from downtown, and the service models they plan to use are ineffective and traumatic.

“The results really show that peer-run load bearing shelter and camp models work best for people that they deem “service resistant” which is basically the city admitting they don’t know how to reach these people and then turn to victim blaming. The use / creation of that term should raise some alarms.”

Money is wasted on police who are not equipped for this issue, he said; money that should go to Neighborhood Emergency Teams (NET) or neighborhood associations to enable them to be a medical interface to the neighborhood.

Also what’s missing are survival programs that offer housing, food, power, water, and data as a human right.

“These are essential to life and should not be put on the market,” Ogden said.

Ogden says the same Wall Street tycoons that got into water 20 years ago are moving into multi-family housing— and are driving prices up for profit.

211 is offering trainings for emergency warming shelters and accepting donations of supplies here:

Winter Weather Donations & Volunteering Multnomah County


Cory Elia is a journalist, photographer, videographer, documentary director & producer, radio personality & podcaster. His journalistic focus is on politics, protest, and poverty.

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