An ice storm swept through Portland, Oregon last week, with temperatures plunging below freezing. Local residents contended with downed power lines, unheated houses, and dangerous roads, but the severe weather event also placed those experiencing homelessness in critical conditions.
As the frost thaws, Mental Health Association of Portland and the Congregation of Shir Tikvah have partnered up to donate and disperse 1,500 tents to locals who are currently unhoused, many of whom have been sleeping on sheets of ice in the streets.
The tents will likely be removed in coming weeks due to the county’s policy against unsanctioned encampments, but the organizations will count the operation as successful if even a single life is saved.
“All we're trying to do is help our neighbors survive one more day until they get swept again,” Rabbi Ariel Stone told KATU ABC 2.
During the worst of the storm, emergency warming shelters temporarily housed 1,200 people, but as soon as temperatures slipped above 25 degrees Fahrenheit, the shelters closed their doors.
County offices and libraries — the latter of which is a safe haven for many unhoused residents — also remained closed at a critical time.
“County leadership is not being internally consistent when you’re saying our staff can’t come to work because it’s too cold, but it’s not cold enough for us to bring people inside who are living on the streets,” county commissioner Dr. Sharon Meieran said in a press statement.
Winter is a busy time for Portland shelters, and the ice storm has shone a brighter spotlight on the city’s ongoing homelessness crisis. Fortunately, the community has repeatedly come together to support their unhoused neighbors.
Mental Health Association of Portland and Congregation of Shir Tikvah’s donation efforts follow a record-breaking auction held at a Portland Rescue Mission shelter in late December.
The PRM shelter in Burnside, OR raised $50,000 for a pair of golden Air Jordans donated by a mysterious benefactor. All proceeds went directly to those in need, expanding resources for hot meals, overnight shelter space, and medical care.
“We could not keep our doors open without so many people who give in smaller but critical ways to allow us to continue to serve people here,” PRM director Erin Holcomb told KSBW. “These shoes contribute to that, but the bigger story, in my mind, is truly the generosity of our community.”
Header image courtesy of Elvert Barnes (CC BY 2.0)