PORTLAND, Ore. — Mayor Ted Wheeler urged Portlanders to help homeless people find shelter during the historic winter storm that dropped a foot of snow on Portland and prompted a state of emergency declaration by both the mayor and governor.
“If you’re walking down your sidewalk and see somebody living on the street and they look like they’re in distress, please call 911. If they just want to get warm and dry please call 211 for shelter availability,” he said during an impromptu press conference outside of city hall Wednesday afternoon.
Wheeler said 600 severe weather shelter beds are open in the city, and the Portland Building is again open at night for the homeless. The fire bureau has deployed two vans to pick up homeless people and shelter staff.
“We have enough capacity. We are not going to turn anyone away,” he said.
The storm that hammered Portland with snow and freezing temperatures Tuesday night and Wednesday morning is the third major weather event of the season so far. Since Wheeler took office New Year’s Day, four homeless people have died of hypothermia in the city.
The historic weather presented Wheeler with a daunting task as he settles into the mayor’s office. His predecessor, Charlie Hales, was criticized for not doing enough during a storm in December.
“This is all new,” Wheeler said. “I think I’m one week into tenure as mayor and here we are standing in front of city hall in what appears to be a pretty good powder day.”
Wheeler said he would analyze the city’s response but right away, he knows he wants to reevaluate how the city utilizes volunteers. He said he heard from many people who wanted to help.
“I want to capture that energy and enthusiasm in this community and put it to good use,” he said.
In the meantime, Wheeler urged people to call 911 for emergencies or 211 for information on shelters and other resources.
“You are not inconveniencing anybody,” he said.