Following recent direction from Mayor Darrell Steinberg regarding opening warming centers, City of Sacramento staff have collaborated with Sacramento County Public Health to develop a more flexible strategy for helping unsheltered individuals during winter months while still adhering to COVID-19 protocols.
The strategy contains three parts. First, the City will expand its hotel voucher program. This is the best option because it avoids grouping people together indoors, officials said.
The City initially will spend $35,000 of remaining CARES Act stimulus funds to reserve up to 50 rooms a night through the end of December. These vouchers will be managed and distributed by the City’s newly formed Office of Community Response.
Priority will be given to families and those most vulnerable to the elements. People experiencing homelessness can call 211 for more information.
Secondly, the City plans to open downtown’s Library Galleria (828 I St.) as a congregate warming center under strict COVID-19 protocols when the forecasted temperature falls below 33 degrees during a 24-hour period – the threshold recommended by the Sacramento County Department of Public Health.
The maximum occupancy would be 60 people per night. Sleeping spaces would be set 12 feet apart from one another to ensure proper social distancing and separated by partitions. Guests would be required to wear masks unless they are sleeping.
This plan could be modified based on changing circumstances related to the pandemic, said Daniel Bowers, director of the City’s Office of Emergency Management, who worked with the County to develop the plan for the Library Galleria.
“We are implementing public-health-supported safety protocols to mitigate exposure risk the best we can during events where we need to activate a warming center due to a weather-related emergency,” Bowers said.
Lastly, the City has 62 camper trailers staged at Cal Expo currently serving as COVID-19 medical isolation units. The Cal Expo board has approved continuing the City’s lease and allowing the trailers to be repurposed as an option for sheltering women and children once the units are no longer needed for medical isolation.
In general, the City subscribes to the Sacramento region’s Severe Weather Guidance plan, which outlines specific temperatures and time periods required to open both warming and cooling centers. The plan was created by Sacramento County health officials, homeless advocates and the National Weather Service.
Temperatures this winter have not yet fallen to the thresholds specified by the plan for opening warming centers, which include extreme cold/freeze warnings for three days accompanied by night temperatures of 32 degrees or less. But with recent nighttime temperatures regularly dipping into the 30s, Steinberg earlier this month called on the City to work with the County on developing alternatives to help unsheltered people.