The Homeless

Homeless people search for shade during heat wave. City says not hot enough for cooling centers

Here’s what Loaves and Fishes is doing to help the homeless in the heat

Sacramento homeless stay hydrated with free water at Loaves and Fishes on Thursday, July 26, 2018.
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Sacramento homeless stay hydrated with free water at Loaves and Fishes on Thursday, July 26, 2018.

Along the road that led into Sacramento’s Loaves & Fishes homeless services complex Thursday afternoon, hundreds of men and women huddled in dome tents, seeking escape from the searing heat.

But the flimsy tents offered little relief as temperatures climbed into triple digits. So they headed for the agency’s Friendship Park area, which offered canopies, misters and ice. For a few hours, they found some measure of comfort.

When the park closed at 3, many began walking, searching for a spot to spend another sizzling summer afternoon.

“I’ve got to go find a shady spot, wherever I can sit and not get into trouble,” said Arthur Benik, as sweat glistened on his brow and soaked his green shirt.

Benik, 44, walks on crutches and lives with a colostomy bag, the result of a recent medical crisis that he said led to his homelessness. “I hate the situation I’m in,” he said. “It’s not easy getting out of this heat.”

Accuweather was forecasting a high Thursday of 106 in Sacramento, on the heels of a 104 reading on Wednesday. High temperatures are forecast to be in the triple digits on Friday and Saturday as well. The weather agency issued a “heat advisory” warning that the prolonged hot temperatures could result in heat illnesses.

The city offered residents various tips for keeping cool in the coming days, including taking cold showers, limiting exposure to the sun, fleeing to malls or other indoor places or grabbing a bite to eat in “many of our farm-to-fork restaurants.”

Those choices are pipe dreams for many who frequent Loaves & Fishes, which provides daytime meals and other services to as many as 800 people every day.

Shelters are full, including a “triage” facility that the city operates on Railroad Drive in North Sacramento, officials said. That building, which offers “wraparound” services for as many as 200 homeless people at a time, plans to close in August. After that, the city hopes to erect three large tent-like structures to provide shelter and services to homeless men and women.

Joan Burke, advocacy director for Loaves & Fishes, urged the city to immediately open “cooling centers” for people who live outside or are without air conditioning. But the recent heat wave likely will not meet the countywide criteria for opening the centers, said Mary Lynne Vellinga, spokeswoman for Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

The criteria, she said, include daytime highs of 105 degrees for three consecutive days, with nighttime temperatures of 75 degrees or higher.

“We’re not expected to meet those thresholds in the next few days, so there are currently no plans to open cooling centers,” Vellinga said.

At Loaves, on North C Street near downtown Sacramento, volunteers and staffers on Thursday were “giving out ice and water as fast as we can,” said Burke. Each “guest” received two bottles of cold water as they left the park in the afternoon. The agency is requesting donations of bottled water, which can be dropped off at the facility.

Staffers urged Friendship Park visitors to head to the downtown public library, or any other building that offered relief from the sun, once they departed Loaves.

As the park was preparing to close Thursday afternoon, the misery was almost palpable, said director Hannah Ozarian.

“Everybody is so lethargic,” she said. “No one has any energy.”

Steve Watters of First Step Communities, another agency that serves homeless people, said some churches this summer have periodically opened their doors to people without shelter. “But I would like to see more effort put into something more permanent,” Watters said.

The dozens of tents that line Ahern Street, leading into Loaves, are proof that Sacramento’s homeless crisis is real and growing, said Burke.

“I’ve never seen it so sad, and I’ve been doing this for a lot of years,” she said. “Especially in this heat, we’ve got to get people into shelters, but there’s no capacity. What I’m seeing is just shocking. I don’t think the situation has ever been worse.”