Sacramento Opens 24/7 Winter Triage Center for Homeless Community

SACRAMENTO -- Rows and rows of bunk beds in a huge warehouse may not look like very much to some, but for others they represent the start of a new life, one that will be off the streets of Sacramento and out of the cold for at least four months.

"I been out here, and it's hard," said Wendelin Branch as she twisted her face to fight back tears. "Scary, when you think you're with somebody, you're really out there by yourself."

Branch is now one of the first 50 people leaving the loneliness and vulnerability of homelessness behind for a safe place inside Sacramento's first 24/7 winter triage center.

"This was truly a herculean effort," said Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

One that came with much rancor.

Back in October, one woman at a community meeting about Steinberg's strategy hurled expletives at Councilman Allen Warren after he tried to hurry her off the microphone saying he didn't want to hear any more of her comments. Tempers flared like that frequently as community members in North Sacramento battled back against their city council over the mayor's three-part plan to solve a city's homeless problem in their neighborhood alone.

The 200-bed triage center on Railroad Drive with wrap-around job, mental and other on-site medical services is just the first facility slated for the area. If it is successful, a shelter could be built on Evergreen and low-income housing could be set up on Arden Way.

Many still feel the troubled north area is being used as a dumping ground because the area is poor and doesn't vote. Now the triage center is a reality, with stepped up security as a concession to the community.

The facility is "low barrier," which means entry is not dependent on a background check and, while encouraged to stay, guests will be allowed to leave.

"Inside the shelter there's 24/7 staff from Volunteers of America," said Emily Halcon, Sacramento's Homeless Services Coordinator. "All of them have been trained on deescalation, on fire safety. There's security cameras that will see the entire perimeter and all of the interior areas at any one time."

While Volunteers of America is working with the city on contract to run the center, Sacramento itself is staffing the area with extra police officers in cars and on bikes.

The pets guests bring will also be safe thanks to accessible veterinary care and kennels. Many of the homeless won't go into open programs because they have to leave their animals behind.

Port-a-potties and shower trailers are available on site and food will be brought in three times a day.

To work out logistics, more guests will be admitted slowly until the center reaches it's capacity of 200. Next week the rows of bunk beds will be partitioned off into smaller rooms of about 16 people.

Televisions and games will also be brought in to give the warehouse a homier feel.

For Branch her focus now is "get your life together," and she's very optimistic the triage center will be key to that.