Updated Dec. 2, 2020 at 1:51 p.m.
Mayor Steinberg called for the opening of warming centers at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, though no definitive plans were made and no exact timetable was outlined.
“We have to do this,” Steinberg said. “We ought to do it and we will do it, I hope, in collaboration with our county partners.”
Sacramento City Manager Howard Chan added that he’s already in contact with the county “about how we can open the warming centers safely, given Covid. So, we’ll continue to have those conversations.”
County Board of Supervisors Chairman Phil Serna said he’s exploring how to provide more help for those on the streets.
“I hear the calls for more warming centers and appreciate the interest in relaxed criteria to open them,” he said in a written statement to CapRadio. “I also appreciate the need for social distancing during this deadly pandemic, and that’s why I’m consulting with our Public Health Department to explore how we might simultaneously provide relief from the elements while avoiding congregate exposure to the COVID-19 virus.”
Updated 4:47 p.m.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said Tuesday he plans to request the city immediately open warming centers for unhoused individuals as overnight temperatures drop to the mid-to-low 30s.
The mayor’s comments come after advocates for homeless residents made numerous calls in recent weeks to open the facilities — and after one homeless man died in the cold two weeks ago.
“Tonight, I’m going to call for the city of Sacramento, I hope in collaboration with the county, but no matter what under any circumstances, that we open warming centers here in our city,” Steinberg told CapRadio. “Because the weather is getting colder and I believe it is the humane thing to do.”
Steinberg said he’s not sure how quickly the centers could open, but that wants to move as fast as possible.
City Manager Howard Chan may have the funding authority to open them right away, according to the mayor, though it’s possible City Council would need to vote on the matter at a future meeting.
City spokesperson Tim Swanson said Chan has the spending authority of up to $250,000 on any one transaction without city council approval, but “potential next steps would depend on the discussion at Council.”
It costs $1,900 to operate a warming center for 12 hours, according to the city.
Greg Tarola, a 63-year-old unhoused man, was found dead last month near the homeless service center Loaves & Fishes in the city’s River District. Advocates believe Tarola froze, though his cause of death is undetermined.
Nighttime temperatures have dipped into the 30s in recent weeks. Cities in the region typically open warming centers only when it drops to 32 degrees or below three consecutive nights, in accordance with guidance from the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.
Advocates say that criteria is too strict and point out that cities can choose to set their own rules for opening the centers.
For now, Bob Erlenbusch, the executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, considers this a win.
“I am grateful that the Mayor is being responsive to our collective advocacy,” Erlenbusch wrote in an email. “In order to save lives, I hope that the Mayor will open them immediately and discard the current inhumane weather activation guidelines and keep them open through the end of March, 2021.”
A yearly report by the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness showed that 138 homeless people died in 2019 in Sacramento County. That was up from 132 the year before.
“Finally, for next year and beyond, I hope that the opening of warming centers is automatic as the right thing to do for our unhoused neighbors,” Erlenbusch added.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify that a city spokesperson responded to CapRadio for City Manager Howard Chan.
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