Smoke adds another health risk for Sacramento County’s homeless

Local News
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SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — The poor air quality is already unpleasant but now, paired with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are fewer places than ever for people to get indoors.

That is a problem for Sacramento County’s homeless population. 

“Today has lightened up a little bit but it’s been awful,” said Mark Imschweiler on Tuesday.

Imschweiler has been going to the clean air center in Folsom all week.

“I live in a mobile home, so I have a swamp cooler to keep me cool. As far as the smoke goes, it is what it is,” he told FOX40. “In here, at least the air is purified a little bit with the AC.”

While he has a home, many in Sacramento County do not.

“We have 11,000 people on any given night sleeping on the streets,” explained Crystal Sanchez, the president of the Sacramento chapter of the National Union of the Homeless.

Sanchez said the smoke is causing real problems within that group.

“People are saying that they’re having a hard time breathing. The congestion, again, more mucus, they feel like they’re suffocating,” she said.

“The toxins that are in the air, of course, and they’re getting pushed from mainly the LNU fire,” said Folsom Fire Chief Felipe Rodriguez.

That’s why both the city of Folsom and the city of Sacramento have turned their cooling centers into clean air centers.

“That way people can go in there and kind of relax in an air-conditioned, clean environment, catch a movie there, charge their electronic devices, get some light food, snacks of some sorts and water if they need it,” said Daniel Bowers, the director of emergency management for the city of Sacramento.

But Sanchez warned there are only three centers open right now and many homeless people do not want to leave their property to escape the smoke.

“There’s just not enough space for people,”  Sanchez explained. “They need to start opening buildings and letting people inside.”

That’s why she’s asking the public to donate any N95 masks they’re not using to people living on the streets.

“They need to be off the streets anyways, but this is just another thing on top of the pile of things that we’re dealing with,” Sanchez said.

The clean air centers are also not open all night, with most closing at 8 p.m. So even while they have the option during the day, many homeless must still sleep outside during the night.

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