Thursday, December 17, 2009

Empowering Our Homeless Citizens To Stay Safe and Warm This Winter

Winter brings unique challenges to those who sleep outdoors. In addition to the emotional and psychological trauma of homelessness, the change in climate and precipitation creates immediate medical hazards for our most vulnerable citizens. Janus Youth Programs has responded to these challenges by working closely with the City of Portland and Multnomah County to develop and implement a strategic multi-agency response to inclement weather. In the past 4 years, Yellow Brick Road and PDX: Outreach & Engagement have become instrumental components of the City’s Winter Season & Severe Weather safety planning for the homeless.

Every night our amazing YBR volunteers, Project Metamorphosis staff and O&E Outreach Specialists are on the streets disseminating critical information and resources to the people who need them most. Our outreach teams are often the first point of contact for homeless folks who, for various reasons, may be hesitant to access services and other outlets for important weather information. The Yellow Brick Road blog is also a great community resource that volunteers, concerned citizens and people experiencing homelessness can access for free online. The blog maintains accurate and up-to-date information regarding resources during Severe Weather. Additionally, Janus operates transportation for people experiencing difficulty getting to a warm safe space during severe weather. This service can often be dispatched from the streets by Yellow Brick Road and O&E outreach teams who encounter people in need.

An excellent example of the fluidity of this safety planning occurred just this past week when the City of Portland declared 7 consecutive nights of Severe Weather due to temperatures below 22 degrees and expected freezing rain conditions. The Friday night Yellow Brick Road team encountered two young boys under the Burnside Bridge at 9:15pm. By that time the temperature was hovering just above 24 degrees. The boys, 16 and 17 years old, were buried under layers of blankets and huddled closely together to stay warm. They were dirty, cold and tired. Through a coordinated effort we were able to dialogue with Harry’s Mother, Janus Youth Programs' 24 hour Runaway Youth Services, about their options. Within twenty minutes the team had consulted with an outreach supervisor who was able to arrive at the scene with the Yellow Brick Road van and transport the boys to a Warming Center. They were able to leave behind the dozens of rain-soaked blankets that had been providing some tiny modicum of warmth as the temperature began to drop that night. The following morning Janus coordinated with the boys via information shared through the outreach teams and it was determined that they were indeed eligible for full Homeless Youth Continuum services! Both boys are warm and safe tonight as a direct result of Janus' Street Outreach Program’s dedication and preparedness. The boys will be provided with a broad array of services tailored to their developmental needs and it is our hope that they will soon bid farewell to the cold, wet streets forever.

In October 2008 Yellow Brick Road and PDX: O&E helped conduct Portland’s first Vulnerability Index Survey to assess the medical vulnerability of our street-affected population. For a city with relatively mild seasons and a generally friendly atmosphere, the findings were disturbing in several critical areas:

Portland has a 12% higher rate of tri-morbidity than other larger cities that conducted the same survey, most notably New York, New Orleans and Los Angeles. Tri-morbidity is defined as a chronic medical condition in combination with mental health disorder and substance abuse.

• Portland’s overall “medically vulnerable” population is 5% higher than other cities that conducted the same survey. Remember, the other cities include New York, New Orleans and Los Angeles’ notorious “Skid Row”.

• 30 people under the age of 25 fit the definition of “medically vulnerable” (much higher per capita than other cities).

• Portland has a 10% higher rate of violent attacks on homeless individuals than other cities that conducted the same survey.

• 29% of the homeless people surveyed said they had foster care involvement at some point during their lives, a much higher rate than the other cities that conducted the same survey (most other cities were around 9%).

• 45% of the Native American population fell under the vulnerable definition (a markedly disproportionate rate when compared to other races & ethnicities).


As we bundle up this holiday season and gather with friends and family, I urge you to consider the lives of young people experiencing homelessness in our own neighborhoods and communities.

FOR MORE INFORMATION REGARDING WINTER SHELTER AND SEVERE WEATHER RESOURCES PLEASE CONTACT 211info WINTER SHELTER HOTLINE:
(503) 721-1500

The hotline available Monday through Friday 8am-10pm
Saturday & Sunday 10am-10pm