PORTLAND, Ore — As coronavirus cases rise in Oregon, the Multnomah County's Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) is opening shelters in motels to protect people who are more at risk of complications due to COVID-19.
In July, shelter residents began moving into three new physical distancing motel shelters: the Banfield Value Inn in Northeast Portland, a Motel 6 and a Days Inn. The shelters provide more space for high-risk adults, in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. JOHS is working with nonprofit partners to move those adults throughout the shelter system into the new locations. In total, these three shelters will provide rooms for more than 150 adults.
"Providing the most vulnerable shelter residents with their own rooms is a critical strategy for keeping people as healthy as possible during the COVID-19 crisis," said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. "This pandemic has shown us definitively that stable shelter, where people with the highest risk of dying from this disease can maintain physical distancing and practice good hygiene, is essential to the community’s health and well-being."
JOHS, which is funded by the City of Portland and Multnomah County, is leasing all of the rooms at each motel and paying nonprofits Transition Projects and Do Good Multnomah to operate and manage the sites.
These new shelters follow the opening of a shelter for high-risk women at the Chestnut Tree Inn in June.
Multnomah County also continues to provide "voluntary isolation" space at two additional motels, serving people who have COVID-19 symptoms or who need a place to quarantine while awaiting test results.
A release from JOHS on Friday states that as of July 23, there have been no reported outbreaks of COVID-19 at any shelters in Multnomah County. The office also says that out of more than 3,700 people who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 in Multnomah County, only 20 reported being homeless at any point in the 12 months before their test.
The county is also working to protect Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities, which are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
JOHS is working with culturally specific service providers, including the Urban League of Portland, to create motel shelters and add services for people from BIPOC communities.
"We've taken unprecedented steps during the COVID-19 pandemic to urgently protect the vulnerable community members in our shelters and on our streets. It's why we quickly found safe spaces for people to sleep in our public buildings and in three outdoor shelters set up on public land," Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said. "As we invest in the next phase of our response, I remain hopeful we can also leverage these motels as housing opportunities that will continue to serve us when the worst is past."
The county's goal is to continue opening motel sites for people at higher risk of infection and severe illness until the JOHS can replace all of the bed capacity at the temporary physical distancing shelters it opened in partnership with Multnomah County Emergency Management in March. These temporary shelters, at the Oregon Convention Center and three Portland Parks & Recreation community centers made use of public buildings left empty because of the pandemic.