Mayor Ted Wheeler Opens Portland Building as a Cold-Weather Shelter While Frigid Temperatures Drop

The building is a block north of City Hall.

Jan 5, 2017
By Tarra Martin, Willamette Week

With Portland bracing for the coldest night of a freezing week, Mayor Ted Wheeler has ordered the first floor of the Portland Building to remain open overnight as a warming center.

"The city and county are committed to not turning anybody away from shelter during the severe weather warning," Wheeler said in a press release. "The system's capacity needs to expand as the cold weather continues. The Portland Building is a good option to increase that capacity."

This week's cold Portland weather has already proven deadly, with 51-year-old Mark Elliot Johnson dying of hypothermia on an East Portland sidewalk Monday night. Tonight's overnight low is forecast to be 20 degrees.

Per Wheeler's order, the Portland Building will be open as an emergency shelter from 7 pm Wednesday to 7 am Thursday, staffed by the Transitions Projects nonprofit and city employees who have volunteered for shifts. (The city staff will be paid for their work.)

The Portland Building, a block north of City Hall on Southwest 4th Avenue, holds the offices of most city bureaucrats.

Here's a list of other warming shelters open tonight in Multnomah County.

Wheeler spokesman Michael Cox says the Portland Building will likely continue to serve as an emergency warming center for the rest of the week, as overnight temperatures are expected to drop into the high teens on Thursday and Friday nights.

When asked if the city building would stay open if the weather stayed cold, Cox replied: "Most certainly."

This is the second time in a year Portland officials mulled turning city facilities into a homeless shelter.

Former Mayor Charlie Hales in May considered turning the first floor of City Hall into a shelter at the request of county officials, according to text messages between Hales and his chief of staff, Josh Alpert.

But Hales quickly dropped that idea because of a spat with Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury over another shelter's impending closure.