The city of Sacramento will make it easier to open warming centers under a plan announced Tuesday that would also expand hotel vouchers and repurpose trailers, all to bring people who are homeless indoors this winter.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the Main Library Galleria in downtown will be used as a warming center for up to 60 people when temperatures drop below 33 degrees during a 24-hour period. That’s less strict than county guidance that calls for the facilities to open only when it drops below freezing three nights in a row.
"We're stitching together a number of different strategies to get as many people out of the cold as possible," Steinberg said.
The mayor said the expanded vouchers should be available within days, regardless of weather, adding that the library would open as soon as it reached freezing. None of the actions require a vote from the City Council, he said.
Steinberg’s announcement follows persistent calls from those who work with the unhoused to bring more people inside. It also comes after the death last month of a homeless Sacramento man who advocates believe froze to death on a sidewalk in the River District.
Bob Erlenbusch, who heads the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, praised the city’s plan to use more vouchers. He said it was good that the move isn’t tied to weather conditions.
But he added that he’s “disappointed” the city is tying the library opening to such a low temperature threshold.
The library won’t open as a warming center anytime soon because low temperatures are expected to dip only into the high 30s over the next week, according to the National Weather Service forecast.
Steinberg said the city will spend $35,000 of remaining federal CARES Act funds to pay for up to 50 additional hotel rooms per night for people who are unhoused. He said the city’s Office of Community Response would manage and distribute the vouchers and that families and those most vulnerable to the elements would be given priority.
People experiencing homelessness can call 211 for more information. Advocates say people on the streets are often not aware of vouchers or warming centers, which haven’t opened in Sacramento since 2016.
Steinberg said the city will work with the service providers throughout Sacramento to get the word out and to offer transportation services.
The plan also includes repurposing the city’s 62 camper trailers at Cal Expo that now serve as COVID-19 medical isolation units. Steinberg said once they are no longer needed for that purpose, they will be offered to unhoused women and children as “a cold weather option.”
The mayor said physical distancing requirements prevent the city from opening all warming centers this winter.
“Every life matters,” Steinberg added in a news release. “We will do all we can even with all of the Covid restrictions to provide our homeless neighbors with a warm, safe place to come inside. I urge the rest of the region to do the same.”
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