Murari Avery displays a wreath she made by hand from found objects. Though she didn’t stay at the warming center at First United Methodist Church the evening this photo was taken, she stopped by to gift the wreath to shelter director Maria Long.

Paul Wellman

This winter’s cold snap has contributed to a more picturesque holiday season — replete with a fine dusting of powder in the mountains — but for people living on the streets, the cold and wet have proved daunting. “We’ve been absolutely slammed,” said Maria Long, who helps run the emergency warming shelters that open up when weather conditions become sufficiently severe. Long said the shelters — run through a consortium of churches, nonprofits, volunteers, and county employees — have been open 26 of the last 27 nights and that they’d remain open the first three days of the new year. “In 26 days, we have served 1,651,” she said, cautioning that figure does not include people served throughout emergency warming shelters north of Gaviota. At Trinity Episcopal, the numbers have hovered between 60 and 90 a night; at the Unitarian Society, 60 to 70. The emergency shelters are designed to supplement the work of permanent shelters like Casa Esperanza, which has a maximum capacity of 200 a night. Long noted that a majority of the visitors served are older — 55 years and up — white males. About half are first-time users.


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