City leaders say Sacramento warming center could have been opened night of deadly storm despite county guidelines

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) – One week after six people died outside in the cold during a powerful storm, the Sacramento City Council announced more help is on the way for those suffering from homelessness.

“We’re not perfect and, obviously, we’ve got to do better,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg as he took accountability for last week’s deadly storm. “We opened a warming center on Monday night, didn’t on Tuesday night but I regret that.”

According to the Sacramento Homeless Coalition, the extreme rain and wind event claimed six lives, lives they said could have been saved had a warming center been open.

“I absolutely agree with them that there’s no reason that people should be dying on the streets, not when we have buildings that we could be opening up,” said District 4 Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela.

A warming center was not available the night of Jan. 26 because temperatures didn’t reach the 32-degree threshold set by the county to open the facility, according to city leaders.

But Sacramento County officials said its temperature criteria was only intended to serve as a guideline, something Valenzuela said the city council learned the hard way on Wednesday. 

“We’ve had many, many deaths on the street that were very preventable and we always ask, ‘Why aren’t you opening centers? Why aren’t you bringing people inside?'” Valenzuela explained. “And the answer was always the county guidelines. Well, what we found out on Wednesday is that we didn’t need to honor the county guidelines, that there was a path for us to open shelters.”

The council voted to open warming shelters from that night forward.

Since then, the city officials said between 85 and 90 people on average have used the downtown warming center, people who may otherwise be outside battling the elements.

“We finally — and probably should have done it sooner — divorced ourselves from the artificial temperature requirements and have made the commitment to open warming centers now every night, from now until the end of the winter. At least that’s my intent,” Steinberg explained.

FOX40 reached out to the city manager’s office and received a comment back Wednesday regarding the center and Sacramento’s homeless community:

As City Manager, nothing is more important to me than the well-being of all Sacramentans. Along with our City Council members, I will continue to work to ensure that we are doing everything possible to protect all of our residents.

Office of the City Manager, Sacramento

At Tuesday’s city council meeting, leaders announced more help for those experiencing homelessness is on the way, bringing 63 tiny homes to the city within the next 50 days and adding nearly 500 rooms to the city’s hotel voucher program by mid-February.

Steinberg said he hopes the additional help sends the message that he and the city council are committed to bringing the unhoused community inside for good.

“I am accountable and I’m going to continue fighting,” he said.

Volunteers are needed at the warming centers that are now open nightly. If you’re interested in offering your time, click or tap here. 

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