Multnomah County hiring Oregonians to work in coronavirus homeless shelters

Multnomah County will have four temporary shelters open by the end of next week, then will open more shelter space for people who are sick but are living outside or in vehicles.

But they don’t have enough staff to work all these new shelters.

So they are asking anyone with any medical, behavioral health or social services experience to apply to work or to volunteer if an employer allows it.

Last week, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury announced the county’s and city of Portland’s intent to open hundreds of shelter beds for homeless people who are not able to be six feet apart in existing shelters and to provide a place for people who are sick but have no place to recover.

So far, the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services has opened 250 beds between the Oregon Convention Center and the Charles Jordan Community Center.

By the end of this week, the East Portland Community Center is expected to open. Kafoury promised another shelter by the end of next week.

The shelters are taking in people who are already in publicly funded shelters, moving them to spaces where they are not as crowded to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19.

Once those are open, people who are waiting for a spot in shelter can start to move through as would normally happen, though the wait might be longer than usual because people are staying in shelter longer.

County officials asked for county employees to staff the shelter first on a voluntary basis. They are still paid, but would work eight-hour shifts in shelters instead of working from home.

Some staff, such as librarians, were directed last week to start helping staff new shelters as they opened -- resulting in tension between managers and employees who were reluctant to put themselves at risk of infection.

Kafoury said that anyone who is particularly susceptible to the virus or has family members who are have been exempted from working in shelters.

But even with large numbers of additional county staff and workers from nonprofits that run existing shelters, the county still needs more people.

The county has not yet put a number on how many people are needed, and Kafoury said that some people who apply might not find that it is the right fit.

“It’s a special skill to work in our shelters,” Kafoury said.

But it could be an opportunity to earn some income for people who are out of work and have relevant skills.

“During this crisis, there’s really two ways that every person can help: One of them is staying home and one of them is helping save people’s lives,” Kafoury said. “That includes working in the shelters, that includes working the hospitals, that includes working in grocery stores to keep people fed. There’s a way for everyone to participate in solving and ending this crisis as quickly as possible.”

Apply on the county’s website.

-- Molly Harbarger

mharbarger@oregonian.com | 503-294-5923 | @MollyHarbarger

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