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  • LEZLIE STERLING / lsterling@sacbee.com

    People huddle under a roof overhang, above, at Loaves & Fishes' Friendship Park in Sacramento, trying to stay dry.

  • LEZLIE STERLING / lsterling@sacbee.com

    A homeless man hurries down a Sacramento street Wednesday after getting a rain poncho and garbage bag at Loaves & Fishes.

  • LEZLIE STERLING / lsterling@sacbee.com

    Randy Richardson of Colfax, right, struggles to light a cigarette with a wet lighter. He and others took shelter under a Sacramento freeway overpass.

Sacramento's homeless seek refuge from week's storms

Published: Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 - 4:08 pm

While Northern California braces for torrential rains and winds, homeless people are taking refuge in malls and libraries, under parked vehicles, freeway overpasses and roof overhangs, and in light-rail cars.

They are also flooding an already overburdened Sacramento housing network.

Connie Frank, co-director of Maryhouse homeless services center, said staff is trying to put a roof over children's heads during the storm.

"It's heartbreaking," Frank said of families with children who come into Maryhouse seeking shelter. "We had a young mom and dad come in two days ago with an 8-month-old baby, and they had slept outside the night before. It's shocking."

Frank said many families who have been camping or staying in friends' garages are now showing up at homeless shelters with the onset of cold, wet weather.

"There's a fair number of women in a panic now, trying to find warm places for their children," she said. "The family shelters are full."

Advocates also are concerned about finding dry places to sleep for the mentally ill, physically disabled and elderly homeless.

And they are trying to warn homeless people camping along creeks and rivers that waterways could overflow their banks during the storm.

Sacramento County has about 2,500 homeless people, with 955 of those unsheltered, according to the last homeless survey. There are currently 627 year-round emergency shelter beds in Sacramento County, with 376 for individuals and 251 for families.

The winter sanctuary, operated by local religious congregations for overflow emergency housing, opened last week, but the 100 additional beds are only for single adults. And because it's staffed by volunteers, it doesn't serve people with mental illness or some physical disabilities.

The dramatic start to the winter storm season is also blowing in at the tail end of the month, when many homeless people have run out of money.

Meanwhile, the county's hotel voucher program for emergency housing, which offers 16 rooms to the elderly, sick, disabled and families with children, doesn't start until Saturday.

On Wednesday, homeless people huddled under canopies in Friendship Park, an outdoor safe haven run by Loaves & Fishes for the homeless on North C Street in Sacramento.

They came hungry, angry, grateful, coughing, shaking, shuffling and sleepy. Some were upbeat, some were resigned. Some had physical injuries, and still others were dealing with unseen demons.

But mainly, the group was cold and wet.

"I have on thermals, T-shirts, two jackets, a cap and a hoodie," said Dell Shook, 51. "But everything is wet, so it doesn't really help. I'm trying to keep my spirits up. But I look around here and I think, this is sad."

While Shook was talking, a barefoot man walked into the park. Staff whisked him inside to find him some donated shoes.

Friendship Park director Garren Bratcher said the center distributed about 500 plastic ponchos Wednesday. They also give out sleeping bags – dry rain-on sleeping bags – and exchange wet shoes for dry ones.

"Feet are very important, since they walk everywhere," Bratcher said of the park's guests.

Bratcher is asking for donations of money for more ponchos, as the center will probably go through its total winter stock during this week's storms. Also needed are new sleeping bags and shoes, particularly in men's sizes 9, 10 and 11.

At Maryhouse on Wednesday, women came to the front desk asking for gloves and hats, and to put their sleeping bags in the dryer.

Shook said he has slept on light-rail cars, or sat under overpasses and in malls in cold, rainy weather. Other park guests said they stayed in their cars, or spread tarps under parked trucks and slept there in sleeping bags.

Carolyn Windberg, an AmeriCorps employee at Loaves and Fishes, said children sometimes come into the homeless center's school with only rain-soaked T-shirts on their backs.

They are given jackets, hats and gloves.

"The simple things that we grab off the hooks at home, are not so simple for these people," Windberg said.

Thomas Core had some tips for staying warm during the upcoming storm.

"If you don't have a place to sleep, keep moving," said the 56-year-old homeless Vietnam veteran. "Walk all night if you need to. And if you find a metal bench to sleep on, put some plastic down first. The dew will get into your bones. It will kill you."

"I have on thermals, T-shirts, two jackets, a cap and a hoodie. But everything is wet, so it doesn't really help. I'm trying to keep my spirits up. But I look around here, and I think, this is sad."

DELL SHOOK, who is homeless and sought shelter from the storm at Friendship Park LIVE STORM COVERAGE

7 a.m. today: Live storm blog launches. Follow the storm as it makes its way across the Sacramento region. Share what you're seeing: Traffic accidents, downed trees, street flooding, road closures, clogged drains.

Noon: Meteorologist Brooke Bingaman of the Sacramento National Weather Service takes your questions on the storms.

sacbee.com/live

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Anne Gonzales



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