There are very few emergency warming shelters available for the houseless residents of eastern Portland this winter. In fact Village Portland recently reported that the eastern part of Multnomah county will be missing around 90 beds from warming shelters not opening this year that did previously.

Montavilla’s Emergency Warming Shelter (MEWS) which operates out of St Peter & Paul Episcopal Church off of 82nd Avenue near Stark Street is one of the only shelters opening this year. The evening of December 17, 2019, was the second volunteer training held this year for the warming shelter. 

Clackamas Service Center is the only other privately ran emergency warming shelter in the area and has a similar occupancy capacity as MEWS at 26 people. The MEWS training was attended by around a dozen residents from the Montavilla area and further abroad in Portland.

After a tour of the facilities was given, Jonnie Shaver and Sophie Lord started the training which consisted of Shaver presenting a lecture surrounded around harm reduction and Lord focusing on behavioral health. Shaver has run the shelter since it started and Lord has many years of mental health training. Shaver helps with the opening of the shelter and Lord helps with closing in the morning.

“Besides human bodies in the form of volunteers the shelter is in need of several things” Shaver stated, “We are in major need for pillows this year but also socks, gloves, and things like hand warmers are also extremely helpful for our clients this time of year.” 

MEWS has been open two nights so far this winter season, Shaver said.

Learn more about the shelter and how to get involved at their Facebook page here. MEWS held a craft sale fund raiser on December 14th, see photos from the event below.

After thoroughly explaining what the harm reduction model is Shaver took time to show a video from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on how to administer the opioid overdose treatment Naloxone in the case of a drug overdose. Shaver stated that while it is a rarely-seen situation the knowledge of what to do can save a life.

Shaver also shared that during a situation like this the main objective is to call 9-1-1 but to ask specifically for medical personal only because the presence of an armed officer could be triggering for some potential guests of the shelter. “We are here to provide them a safe place and part of that is to minimize the potential stress interacting with an officer can cause people” Shaver stated.

Proceeding Shaver’s presentation, Lord took time to explain how behaviors such as aggressive posturing like crossing one’s arms and talking down to individuals could also be triggering for guests of the shelter. “Like Jonnie said, we want to provide a safe space for people and that means being aware of yourself as well as other’s body language”

After talking about behaviors Lord also took time to speak about how to best interact with someone who is dealing with a mental crisis or suicidal ideations. Lord took time to explain that suicidal ideations and suicidal intent are not the same and intent to do self-harm needs to be handled more serious than the other which can be addressed with de-escalation techniques which can be as simple as being an active listener if someone needs it. 

After their presentations, Lord and Shaver took the time to address questions from the group of volunteers there for the orientation. One thing asked was why Multnomah County has drastically different standards for opening warming shelters compared to the other counties in the greater Portland area.

The pair explained that Multnomah County is the only one out of the counties that make up Portland Metro that requires temperatures to be below 25 degrees Fahrenheit or there is one inch of snow on the ground before allowing emergency warming shelters in Multnomah to open. All other counties only require the temperature to be below 32 degrees.

The pair explained that they have never been provided clear reasoning from the Joint Office of Homeless Services who set this standard. They don’t agree with the standard, but abide by it and continue to provide shelter for the highly impacted and vulnerable population they serve. 

You can call 2-1-1 or visit their website to find out if the area’s emergency winters shelters are open.


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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