City partners with south Sacramento church to open warming center that serves local neighborhood

The City of Sacramento has opened a warming center and safe parking site in south Sacramento in partnership with the Sacramento Capitol City Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

The center, at 6701 Lemon Hill Ave., had a soft opening Monday and will operate nightly from 5:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. It will offer a warm indoor place where up to 35 people can rest. The church parking lot will also be opened as a safe parking location for up to 15 vehicles a night. Snacks will be provided to both groups.

“From the foundation of our church, we made a commitment to be more than a building in our city,” said Damian Chandler, pastor at Sacramento Capitol City Seventh-Day Adventist Church. “We take seriously our call to be good and godly neighbors, and to be a place where our community knows it can find help. So, when we were approached by Councilmember Eric Guerra to use our building as a warming center, it was a no brainer for us. It is an honor to be given the opportunity to love on our city in this very practical way.”

“For our unhoused neighbors suffering outside the central city, we need equitable access to warming centers to meet them where they are, especially during extreme weather events,” said Councilmember Guerra, who has been working with the District 6 for Unhoused Neighbors working group to find locations for short-, medium- and long-term shelter and housing options to address homelessness in his district. “This isn’t a solution to addressing the long-term issue of homelessness, but it does save lives if done in every part of the city.”

The shelter is being run by First Step Communities, under a contract with City of Sacramento and in coordination with Sacramento Capitol City Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The site is set to operate through March 31, with the possibility of a future extension.

First Step, which earlier this month took over management of the Library Galleria warming center, also runs the permanent Sacramento County shelter on North A Street in the River District and the Grove Avenue cabin community for transition age youth in north Sacramento.

First Step Executive Director Steve Watters said his staff will employ stringent protocols at the church to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including taking peoples’ temperatures at the door, making sure they have a mask, offering enhanced hygiene and asking them a series of questions to rule out anyone who has symptoms. Guests will be spaced out by at least six feet.

People resting indoors can use the church bathrooms. The people sleeping in vehicles will have access to portable bathroom facilities outside the church in an effort to minimize the number of people mixing inside during the pandemic.

Watters said his organization is hiring additional staff to help run the warming center. First Step is deploying “navigators” in the neighborhood to perform outreach to unsheltered residents in the community. Access to the warming center is by referral only; it does not allow walk-ups.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he welcomed the addition of a warming center in south Sacramento, which has a sizeable number of people living outdoors on sidewalks, parking lots, stream culverts and other areas.

“Opening overnight shelters during a pandemic poses risks, but people are also at grave risk every day they live on the streets,” Steinberg said. “High winds, cold, rain and extreme heat make their situation even more miserable and dangerous. We are doing our best as a city to balance these risks every day and keep people safe.”

Sacramento County Public Health on Feb. 20 ordered the City’s Library Galleria and Southside Pool House warming centers to remain closed until March 1, following positive COVID-19 test results from two workers and a guest. The City had temporarily closed the warming centers Feb. 18 following a confirmed case of COVID-19 with a staff member who worked at both sites.

Following consultation with Sacramento County Public Health, the City Hall Parking Garage (1000 I St.) remains open from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. to support people in vehicles as well as individuals on foot who may have wanted to access the warming centers.

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