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Volunteers needed to staff warming center, count Sacramento homeless

Mayor Darrell Steinberg vows action at homeless warming center

Sacramento's new mayor said city and county leaders plan a joint meeting on Jan. 31 to address issues of homelessness. "Stay tuned," he said Christmas Eve during an appearance at the city's new homeless warming center in Southside Park.
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Sacramento's new mayor said city and county leaders plan a joint meeting on Jan. 31 to address issues of homelessness. "Stay tuned," he said Christmas Eve during an appearance at the city's new homeless warming center in Southside Park.

A recently opened warming center for homeless people in Southside Park is seeking nighttime volunteers.

Volunteers are needed to check in visitors, make coffee and hot chocolate, and every few hours punch the buttons that keep the heaters running in the pool house that is serving as a temporary respite shelter, located at 2107 Sixth Street.

There are two shifts each night, and two volunteers are needed for each. Shifts run from 6 p.m. to midnight and midnight to 6 a.m. Volunteers aren’t alone in the center. Law enforcement, city staff and volunteer medical staff are also there.

The temporary facility is a joint project of the city and county, pushed by Mayor Darrell Steinberg. The center has funding to go through March but only opens on nights when the temperature falls below 40 degrees. Volunteers are typically given 48 hours notice based on weather forecasts if their shift is canceled due to closure.

The shelter has been drawing increasing numbers of people since its opening on Christmas Eve, with about two dozen showing up on a recent night.

Animals are also welcomed at the center, so volunteers need to be comfortable around dogs. Front Street Shelter has provided kennels for four-legged visitors to sleep in.

Volunteers should wear warm clothes and bring a book to pass the wee hours, said volunteer organizer Valeri Mihanovich.

The only other requirement is that volunteers be “kind, understanding and leave your judgment at the door,” she said.

The organization is also seeking 350 volunteers for a national one-night count of the local homeless population on Jan. 25. Volunteers on that effort will be split into teams and asked to go to one of about 70 specific areas in the city and county to count homeless residents.

On any given night, there are about 2,659 homeless people in Sacramento, 948 of whom lack shelter, according to service coordinator Sacramento Steps Forward. In the 2015 count, there were 238 homeless families in the county.

The homeless count is run nationally by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and takes place every two years to help local and federal service providers better understand homeless populations.

Many of the areas on the one-night count, which begins around 8 p.m., can be canvassed in about an hour, said Mihanovich. Larger or densely populated regions may keep volunteers on the streets until 11:30 or so, she said.

“I think people come back surprised about what you learn about people,” Mihanovich said. “For four hours, you put yourselves in their shoes.”

Volunteer Organization Hands on Sacramento is coordinating both volunteer opportunities through its website, www.handsonsuperiorcal.org.

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