Perilous wind chills drive hundreds into Portland homeless shelters

Portland’s homeless shelters were filled to capacity Monday night as mounds of snow accumulated on streets and sidewalks and temperatures, combined with strong winds, produced what the National Weather Service described as "dangerously cold wind chills" – as low as minus 30 degrees – that were expected to last through early Tuesday.

On Monday night, the Oxford Street shelter, with a capacity of 154; and Preble Street’s makeshift shelter, which can accommodate 75; were both at capacity.

The city’s overflow shelter, at the General Assistance offices on Lancaster Street, can accommodate as many as 150 people, but officials said it was unlikely to fill up. People who seek shelter at Lancaster Street must sleep while sitting in chairs, because unlike other city shelters, it is not equipped with mats.

"The shelters will be crowded tonight. I’d be surprised if every square inch isn’t being used," said Mark Swann, director of Preble Street, a resource center for the homeless.

Swann said Preble Street’s street outreach team and the city’s Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement – or HOME – team prowl city streets on most winter evenings looking for people who need shelter. 

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