SACRAMENTO – Nearly 24 hours after Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg had an outburst about the City’s inability to open warming centers for the unhoused, members of the Sacramento Council held an emergency meeting to discuss the issue.
The City Council voted unanimously to open the Southside Park pool house as necessary and two downtown parking garages with bathrooms as safe places for people with vehicles.
City Manager Howard Chan allocated $1 million to carry into next week for stand up warming centers in city-owned properties. The funds will assist community-based organizations and religious institutions to open winter shelters as well.
City officials were concerned and felt that they needed to address the situation of the unhoused community during the current storm that included gusting winds up to 60 miles per hour.
Two people living on the streets died during the storm that happened over the night of Jan. 27. The city declared a local emergency to deal with a situation it was not prepared for and eventually cost lives.
“No one should be out on the streets, certainly during the worst weather possible,” Mayor Steinberg said. “It’s a human being and someone with a family. But nobody should be on the streets, period.”
Steinberg warned during Tuesday’s virtual City Council meeting that more warming centers were needed and that “people are gonna die tonight.”
According to a 2010 National Coalition for the Homeless report titled “Winter Homeless Services: Bringing Our Neighbors in from the Cold,” 700 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness are killed from hypothermia annually in the United States.
Steinberg said the City of Sacramento would open at least one warming center the night of the storm in the Library Galleria at 9th and I streets. The state of emergency would also allow the City to offer sheltering options in public facilities every night through the end of winter on March 20.
On Jan. 25, the City announced the opening of the warming center for unsheltered residents for Monday and Tuesday as the weather was expected to reach freezing temperatures in the area. It was cold and the strong winds intensified the conditions.
“I am beyond grief-stricken,” said Katie Valenzuela of Council District 4 on her Twitter account. “I’m angry and we must do more for our neighbors.”
According to Sacramento Steps Forward, on any night, nearly 3,000 people are on the streets in the County of Sacramento. About 40 percent of those unhoused are African American.
High winds caused the toppling of trees and power outages that affected 150,000 Sacramento residents. Power lines were also reported down in some parts of the city and county.
The warming center was located at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria at 828 I St. It was opened from 9:00 p.m., Jan. 25, and Monday to 6:00 a.m., Jan. 26. The Galleria was also opened on Jan. 27 as a place to shelter from the cold.
“This is the second time this winter that the city has opened a warming center,” said Daniel Bowers, the city’s director of emergency management. “As stated previously, our goal is to provide people with a safe, comfortable place to be when nighttime temperatures are forecasted to reach 32 degrees or lower.”
Mayor Steinberg said encampments were destroyed and tents blew away in a storm that yielded weather in the 40s. He also said it is still not clear whether the two people that died outdoors passed away because of the storm.
In any likelihood, they were outside when they died. Steinberg said the city will step up its efforts to address the unhoused situation during a weather period that is far from over.
“We are going to define a public health emergency in ways that meet our city’s needs,” Mayor Steinberg said. “I want to bring people indoors. I want multiple sites open now and every night until the end of the winter.”
By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer