Warming centers may be cold comfort for Sacramento's homeless

By Cody Drabble

A deep dive in temperatures over the past two weeks forced open the doors of Sacramento’s only warming centers for homeless residents. Meanwhile, questions about when and how long to keep it open persisted like the current cold snap.

At the Southside Park Pool Building, which serves as the jointly operated warming center for both the city and county of Sacramento, more than 30 people sought shelter under blankets in the cot-filled locker rooms over the weekend. Volunteers and Department of Human Assistance employees handed out snacks, water, and clean socks and underwear to guests. The city opens the warming center when extreme cold or freeze warnings last for three days.

Local overnight temperatures plummeted to 22 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday.

Area homeless advocates questioned whether consecutive days should be built into the operating criteria at all. “I think any time it falls below freezing we should try to provide space for people,” said Clent Irby, who operates the Volunteers of America warming center, which takes in roughly five people a night.

“The ideal situation would be year-round shelter, instead of being weather-driven—cold or hot,” added Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness.

Based on the weather forecast, the Southside warming center and ones in Elk Grove and Galt were closed December 11, the county announced, with no plans to reopen them in the near future, unless weather conditions change.

At the Sacramento City Council meeting on December 5, local resident Jenn Rogar presented a photo of a homeless woman curled up under a mountain of blankets at 28th Street and Capitol Avenue, with the caption “You or me?” handwritten across the bottom. “This is inhumane,” Rogar said. “I’m sick of hearing about an arena for $258 million. The city’s got money for that, and we’ve got people that are freezing to death and living like this.”

For now, year-round funding remains on the perpetual Christmas wish list for homeless advocates. “That’s what I’d like to see, but the funding is not available,” Irby said.

For information on available social services in the Sacramento area, call 211.

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