Sacramento City Council declares local emergency to shelter homeless after 2 people die

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — According to Sacramento City Council members and homeless advocates, two people experiencing homelessness reportedly died Tuesday night in the cold.

Some in the community say their deaths could have been prevented had a warming center or shelter been available to them. 

It’s what prompted the city council to hold an emergency meeting and pass a new declaration to make shelters more accessible to the unhoused community. 

“I want to start by acknowledging the death in my district. It’s hard to hear and think about a woman by herself in her tent last night and what that must have been like,” said District four councilwoman Katie Valenzuela. 

Tuesday night’s temperature was in the 40s, well above the 33-degree threshold to open warming centers. 

City leaders say those places had to stay closed due to that threshold even though there were winds that caused overnight destruction. 

“We need to get rid of the arbitrary weather temperatures, whether it’s cold or hot and just go with common sense in order to save lives,” said Bob Erlenbusch, Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness. 

Homeless advocates, like Erlenbusch, have long been calling for season shelters to stay open all winter long. And following the two deaths reported, Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the city council agree. 

“There is no reason, other than the difficulty of the work which I’m not underestimating here, that we shouldn’t keep these centers open all winter because the switch on, switch off is not right,” Steinberg said. “It’s cold and it’s winter. End of story as far as I’m concerned.”

The council voted unanimously during their emergency meeting to open the central library on I Street as a warming center starting Wednesday night, with plans to open a second location at Southside Park as needed. 

The city will also make two downtown garages with restrooms available, where those living in cars can go to stay safe from the extreme weather. 

But some in the community say the plan comes a little too late. 

“Did you need last night’s storm and death to get us to this point? Have not the deaths throughout the years been enough?” said one caller at the meeting. 

Erlenbusch is also disappointed changed took so long to arrive, but he hopes the city is now one step closer to preventing deaths and reacting to them. 

“It was tragic that it seemed to take two deaths last night of our unhoused neighbors, but sometimes those kinds of tragic instances motivates important change,” Erlenbusch told FOX40. “And I hope that this sticks and we just don’t go from emergency to emergency.”

The city council is also dedicating $1 million to the city manager to keep the warming centers open with COVID-19 safety measures in place. 

That money will also provide resources to nonprofits and churches that offer shelter to the homeless. 

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