Darren Pyle was staking out the south side of Sacramento’s Loaves & Fishes dining hall, a sunny spot on a chilly Sunday afternoon that was about to get a whole lot chillier.
The regulars know that this is the place to stay warm during the day, he said.
By midafternoon, though, as sharp shadows descended, Pyle moved across the street to get in line for a bus out of there – and a free ticket to a warm bed.
“It’s a good thing, because it’s supposed to be 29 degrees tonight,” said Pyle, 47, a camouflage-patterned blanket draped over his shoulder. “I need to sleep where I’m warm.”
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That is hard to come by for many of Sacramento’s homeless and transient populations, who are facing record-setting low temperatures. At Sacramento Executive Airport, overnight temperatures plunged to 27 degrees by early Sunday, a record low for that date, colder than 28 degrees set in 2004, according to the National Weather Service.
Downtown Sacramento hit 31 degrees, tying a record set in 1952.
Pyle had figured Sunday he was facing a low of 29 degrees overnight, but the forecast actually was a bit worse: A projected low of 28. That would bring the number of sub-freezing nights in November to three, one more than average for Sacramento.
The National Weather Service expects warmer temperatures the first half of this week – with lows of 34 overnight on Monday and 37 on Tuesday. But then, said meteorologist Travis Wilson: “Things will really change.
Wilson said a storm system from the northwest is expected to hit Sacramento on Thursday, bringing wind and up to a half-inch of rain. Snow levels in the Sierra will start at 6,500 feet before dropping to 5,000 feet.
“It’s a real storm,” he said.
At Loaves & Fishes, Pyle and at least 50 other men and women lined up Sunday afternoon to check in for Winter Sanctuary, with area churches providing overnight shelter on a rotating basis. Donations and county money fund the program, which runs this year from Nov. 23 to April 3, said Bo Reid, a staff member who cheerfully greeted guests.
Two donated school buses pick up the guests daily in the late afternoon – the program can handle about 100 nightly – and transport them to an area church for a meal and lodging until 6 a.m. the next day, when the buses return.
During check-in, a black sleeping bag is plucked from several rows and handed to those who will make the trip.
“We opened at the perfect time,” said Reid, 22. “If you’ve ever been by the river when the sun goes down, you know it’s super cold.”
One of those who knows this firsthand is Santos Peinado, 32, who said he occasionally finds himself sleeping at Discovery Park on the American River when he cannot find a bed at a shelter. “It’s dangerous over there,” he said, describing his encounters with raccoons.
“This program saves lives – and it’s for four months,” he said. “And it’s all the cold months.”
While Peinado was waiting his turn to check in, a woman roared through the Loaves & Fishes parking lot, shouting about how someone had stolen her backpack and no one had intervened. She cursed at the crowd, shaking her fist and raging that everyone was laughing at her.
“Nobody’s laughing,” said one man, speaking softly. Others nodded their heads.
Reid said staff members at Winter Sanctuary have learned to deal with the occasional angry or unstable residents, forging relationships with their clientele to avoid having to evict them or ask for police assistance. The screening process is intended to weed out sex offenders or those who are intoxicated or agitated.
Reid expects that demand will intensify as temperatures drop.
Pyle, with a swollen black eye and a cut lip from a fight, secured his spot on the bus Sunday, destined for a Fair Oaks church.
Others did not.
Several blocks away, a man clutching three rain tarps walked along North B Street toward the river.
Around the corner, the angry woman who had lost her backpack was even more agitated, storming up 12th Street, waving her fists at passing cars.
She had no coat.