PORTLAND, Ore — The Oregon Convention Center will transform into a 130-bed homeless shelter on Friday.
The convention center, owned by Metro, will become the second temporary shelter to open to help homeless people affected by the coronavirus pandemic. It has not held events since March 12 when Gov. Kate Brown banned gatherings of 250 people or more.
“Metro has been working hard to make sure our region’s homeless population has access to the services they need,” said Metro Council President Lynn Peterson. “With the resources we have, this was a common-sense arrangement.”
Metro said in a statement that officials expect the convention center to return to normal operations when large gatherings are again permitted.
“Portland was firmly established as a premier convention and visitor destination before this crisis that faces us today,” said Oregon Convention Center director Craig Stroud. “We are fully confident that we can return our world-class level of service after the health crisis we face is over. And, while it will take time, we will also reach full economic recovery.”
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury announced Tuesday the intent to add hundreds of additional beds by Friday to house people in Multnomah County who need shelter. Officials said that the hope is to reach 400. The first two announced shelters will bring the total of new beds to around 250, with more promised.
“We are grateful to the Oregon Convention Center for their generosity,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler.
The city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services said the effort will continue into next week.
The first 120 beds are expected to open Thursday night at North Portland’s Charles Jordan Community Center, owned by Portland Parks and Recreation. Places like the community center and convention center are prime spots because they already have many of the facilities needed for short-term human occupancy, such as multiple bathrooms, showers, kitchen facilities and enough space to keep beds six feet apart.
The city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services is expected to open the bulk of the additional shelter beds for people who are not sick but are too crowded in existing shelters. Officials also want to have separate spaces for people who are coughing, feverish or showing other symptoms of COVID-19, as well as space for people who are diagnosed with the virus but not sick enough to stay in the hospital.
The latter will likely have medical staff on hand.
Homeless people are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19 because many have respiratory infections and weakened immune systems from harsh living conditions. They also have few resources to stay hygienic enough to prevent illness and no place to go to recover.
Multnomah County employees have been asked to volunteer to staff the new shelters alongside nonprofits already contracted by the Joint Office to run existing shelters.
-- Molly Harbarger
This article was originally published by The Oregonian, one of more than a dozen news organizations throughout the state sharing their coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak to help inform Oregonians about this evolving heath issue.