'Absolutely life-threatening': Homeless battle days of frigid conditions

Frigid nights for the homeless

PORTLAND, Ore. -- People who used to live on the streets of Portland worry about those who are still out in the cold.

“I'm scared for them," said Desiree Rose, who used to live along the Springwater Corridor. “I'm terrified for them because I know how hard it is."

Rose now lives in a small shelter at the Hazelnut Grove homeless village. She has no electricity or plumbing. The only heat comes from a propane heater she’s hung from the ceiling. Its attached to a propane bottle—that you would use on your barbecue---on the floor.

“It’s cold and I’m smart about it. We've put it in smart so it’s not going to cause a problem and I turn it on for five minutes just to knock the chill off,” she said.

The village leader, Joe Bennie, said the area is experiencing the type of cold that can kill.

“Absolutely life-threatening. And then when you have to sleep on the ground, the ground continues to suck the heat out of you and stuff,” he said.

Bennie has been homeless since 2007.

On Monday, a 51-year-old homeless man died of hypothermia in east Portland, officials said.

In downtown, some still sleep in doorways despite the bitter cold. Verne Hunt shared a cramped spot with his dog Monday night.

"It was cold. Very cold,” he said.

Hunt said strangers gave him blankets which help. He's not interested in emergency shelters.

Portland estimates 1,800 people sleep outside on any given night. On Monday night, 300 used emergency shelters that opened because of the cold, but 100 spots were not used. The county and city plan to step up outreach efforts as the temperatures sink and will likely open at least one more emergency shelter.

But some, like Stanley Lewis, don’t like the shelters. He’s a homeless man in downtown Portland. He said a pile of blankets help get him through the night.

“You just stay bundled up --curled up in a bottle--hope you’re covered with blankets and stay there."

He stayed in a homeless camp in Portland’s old town Monday night and probably will again Tuesday.

“It keeps the rain off and if you can keep dry you can win. If you get wet, you're dead,” he said.

If you see someone who is homeless and wants to find a shelter, you can call 211 for suggestions.

Several homeless folks said they also appreciate it when strangers offer them blankets or hand warmers.

Resources to stay warm

Warming centers are open in Portland and Gresham with capacity during day and night. Call 211 in Multnomah County at any hour for the latest information about open shelters. Calls are answered in over 150 languages. You can also visit 211's website for updated information and sign up for emails or texts about updated warming center locations. Severe weather centers will accommodate individuals and couples, pets and belongings, and do not require identification or any other documentation. Families with children seeking shelter should also call 211 and will be directed to a shelter that can accommodate children.

People seeking to get warm, especially during daytime hours, are encouraged to utilize public buildings that are open to the public, including, for example, libraries and community centers. Library hours are listed on Multnomah County Library's website. City community center information is listed here.

During extreme cold weather there is increased risk of exposure-related injuries for unsheltered homeless people who do not have sufficient gear, such as coats, hats, gloves, footwear, tarps, sleeping bags and blankets. For information about what and where to donate, please contact 211 info by dialing 211 or by visiting their website.

For additional information on the dangers of cold including: hypothermia, carbon monoxide hazards and important information on the use of alternative sources of heat, click here.


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