The city of Sacramento refused to open emergency warming centers Sunday night as unhoused people scrambled to stay dry and warm during a rainstorm. On Monday, after backlash from advocates and internal push from the mayor, the city announced it would open the City Hall lobby as night two of the storm bears down on the region.
On Monday, the City Hall lobby will open at 8 p.m. tonight and close at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Blankets, snacks, water and restrooms will be available, as will protected outdoor space to accommodate pets in kennels or crates, according to a city news release.
Sacramento County announced it would also open a weather respite center at 1725 28th Street in Midtown from 6 p.m. Monday through 6 a.m. Tuesday. Two churches are opening their doors, too — United Methodist Church at 8986 Elk Grove Blvd. and Union Gospel Mission Sacramento at 400 Bannon St.
Advocates for Sacramento’s unhoused community fumed at the city’s decision to close the building this weekend as a rainstorm arrived. The city opened the lobby and one other respite center last week when temperatures dropped near freezing.
Without a warm place to go, dozens of homeless residents camped outside City Hall, with tents and sleeping bags lining the outside of the vacant lobby along with the north side of the building.
“They should open the damn lobby, bottom line,” Joe Smith, advocacy director at Loaves & Fishes, a homeless services center, said early Monday morning. “That’s the people’s building. People needed it last night and it wasn’t there for them.”
Faye Wilson Kennedy, co-chair of the Sacramento Poor People’s Campaign, echoed that sentiment.
She added that keeping the warming centers open is just one part of it, but disseminating information and providing transportation is just as important.
“Many of the unhoused at encampments are getting hit hard by the high winds and cold rain,” Wilson-Kennedy wrote in an email. “We are trying to replace tents and tarps but are having difficulty obtaining them (stores have limited supply). Transportation is needed to move folks to the Respite Center.”
The city decided to close City Hall and another warming center in Del Paso Heights this weekend as the rainstorm arrived because nighttime temperatures rose from the 30s to the 40s, according to Gregg Fishmann, a spokesman for the Sacramento Department of Community Response, which oversees the city’s homeless services.
In March, the mayor and City Council approved $3 million to fund the overnight walk-in centers year-round, marking what many believed would be the end of the city’s long reliance on weather-based thresholds to open the small emergency shelters
The vote came after several unhoused people died in a violent January storm.
But instead of opening year-round facilities, officials have opened the respite centers sporadically, often for a day or two during a hot or cold spell then closing them when more mild temperatures return.
Mary Lynne Vellinga, spokeswoman for Mayor Darrell Steinberg, said the mayor’s staff “raised the issue” with City Manager Howard Chan about keeping the centers open over the weekend, but said “it’s up to them.”
A spokesperson for Chan did not respond to requests for comment.
The inaction has had consequences. In Sacramento County last year, four unhoused people died of hypothermia, two others likely died of hypothermia and six died of pneumonia, according to the Sacramento County Homeless Deaths Report. All told, 137 homeless people died in 2020, either on the street, in shelters, vehicles or hospitals, the report found.
City officials said they are working on plans for a permanent respite center, but declined to provide details on when or where it would open.
Standing near her tent outside City Hall Monday morning, Laura Treadwell said camping during the storm was “miserable.”
“You better have a high immune system, because if you don’t you’re going to catch pneumonia,” added Treadwell, an Oroville native who said she’s been without a permanent home for five years.
Linda Pace, who lives along the American River Parkway, said she rode out last night’s storm in her tent and had no intentions of going anywhere else.
Asked whether she’d consider going to a warming center, Pace said: “No, I don’t even know where they’re at.” She said it was easier to stay put, though she noted “all my blankets are wet.”
Not far from the parkway, a steady stream of homeless residents headed into Loaves & Fishes, amid collapsed tents and flood water.
The center offers coffee, hot meals, showers, clean clothes and rain ponchos. Or as Smith, the center’s advocacy director calls it: “Survival gear.”
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.