SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) – Changes are coming to warming centers in Sacramento as city leaders make an effort to save the lives of people experiencing homelessness while also preventing local hospitals from becoming overburdened.
For years it took three freezing nights before the facilities opened to the homeless, but Sacramento’s director of emergency management, Daniel Bowers, said starting Tuesday warming centers will activate on any night that dips below 33 degrees.
“We definitely don’t want young children catching colds out here on the street,” Bowers told FOX40. “We don’t want our elderly, you know, catching a cold, having to go to the hospital and, goodness forbid, we don’t want them getting COVID.”
Bowers said operating these centers in the age of coronavirus is a complex task.
“We’re trying to avoid a congregate setting unless the situation calls for it and demands for it, and so we cannot jeopardize life safety out in the community. If there is a severe weather emergency, we’ll take that risk and we’ll activate this,” Bowers explained.
To keep people safe, the centers will be limited to 60 people at a time and everyone will be required to wear face masks, sanitize and keep a safe social distance.
But before going to warming centers, city leaders hope the homeless consider taking advantage of the city’s hotel voucher program. CARES Act funding has allowed the city to expand the program, which allows those experiencing homelessness to stay warm in a motel room free of charge.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg also announced Tuesday that 62 camper trailers at Cal Expo will soon be available for nightly stays.
“It’s not a full-blown solution but it’s better than where we were yesterday,” said Bob Erlenbusch with the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness.
Erlenbusch said the city’s new initiative to protect the homeless through the winter is a step in the right direction but doesn’t go far enough.
“Forget the weather activation, we don’t need that,” Erlenbusch explained. “We know that it’s going to be cold and wet from December 1 to March 31. Let’s just do that.”
He said just two weeks ago, a 63-year-old Sacramento man died outside in the cold. His death is believed to be weather-related and — in the view of homeless advocates — preventable.
“He was found in his sleeping blanket just drenched to the bone. So, that would be the advantage, is to save lives. He would be alive today if a warming center had been open,” Erlenbusch told FOX40.
City leaders say this plan has been in the works for some time and were officially given the green light to put it into motion Tuesday after consulting with the health department.