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Sacramento homeless warming centers close as spring temperatures rise

Stafford Nichols beds down for the night on a pool recliner inside a warming center for homeless people at the pool house at Southside Park on Dec. 27. The warming center has closed for the season as spring temperatures rise.
Stafford Nichols beds down for the night on a pool recliner inside a warming center for homeless people at the pool house at Southside Park on Dec. 27. The warming center has closed for the season as spring temperatures rise. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Warming centers run by Sacramento city and county closed their doors on Friday for the season, shutting down a program that provided indoor shelter for hundreds of homeless people during an especially harsh winter.

Sacramento homeless services coordinator Emily Halcon said that about 700 people had used three city-run warming centers since the first one in Southside Park opened on Christmas Eve. The county also ran at least two warming centers serving 1,612 people, according to the county.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg pushed for the city and county to cooperate on a warming center pilot program after a spell of cold, rainy nights left many concerned for those sleeping outside. The Southside Park facility, inside a pool house, was only open on nights when no other seasonal shelter was available and temperatures dropped below 40 degrees. In previous years, temperatures had to remain below freezing for three consecutive nights before warming centers would open.

After two homeless men, Michael Nunes and Vinnie Collins, died on City Hall grounds in a one-week January span, Sacramento City Council members pushed for a second warming center to open nearby. That facility held 40 people and was open every night.

A third shelter for homeless youths also provided beds for up to 20 people a night, Halcon said.

She said the shelter near City Hall on Ninth Street was full almost every night. Halcon said it had few problems even though it was among city shelters with the fewest restrictions – accepting animals, shopping carts full of possessions and men and women who wanted to stay together.

“For the most part, we didn’t have any issues,” said Halcon. “Lowering the barriers did not, from what I can see, increase challenges.”

Steinberg said that although the warming centers closed, it was “just the beginning” of the city’s renewed focus on homelessness. Steinberg said the city would likely consider summer measures such as water stations and cooling centers, but his long-term objective is to move people into permanent housing.

“We need to get 2,000 people off the streets over the next three years and have enough prevention resources to not replace the 2,000 with a new cohort of homeless people,” said Steinberg. “That’s the goal, and I don’t want to lose sight of the goal.”

Councilman Allen Warren said that as the weather has improved, he has seen more people returning to levees and riverbanks, many in his Del Paso Heights-based district.

Warren has been advocating for a city-sanctioned encampment in his area that could accommodate up to 200 people in barracklike tents for about three months while counselors try to guide them toward permanent housing with services. Warren said he isn’t advocating for such encampments throughout the city but would like to try it in his area, where “we already have tent cities.”

Monday, Warren said he was working to finalize a potential location for a city-sanctioned tent city and would ask the City Council to discuss it further once he had more details.

Sacramento County will consider creating a shelter modeled after the Navigation Center in San Francisco. The Bee was asked to not include Navigation Center clients in this video.

Bee reporter Ellen Garrison contributed to this report.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

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