Warming Centers Offer Shelter from the Storm

Hundreds of Homeless Given Food, Beds, Health Care

<b>RESPITE FROM THE RAIN:</b> A warming center opens at Unity Church’s Jefferson Hall, where dozens got out of the weather, ate a meal, visited with Doctors Without Walls volunteers, and signed up for health care. Steven Waterman (left) picks up a plate of hot food.
Paul Wellman

Forecasts for the unyielding rain that soaked Santa Barbara this week prompted warming centers to open their doors and provide dry beds for homeless residents on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Four of 18 organizations in the center rotation activated ​— ​the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, Peace Lutheran in Lompoc, and the Salvation Army in Santa Maria ​— ​and provided approximately 200 beds on Tuesday night and, as of press time, the potential for nearly 300 beds on Wednesday evening, said organizer Maria Long. “People get a really good sleep if it’s two nights in a row,” she said.

Doctors Without Walls provided medical care at the Unitarian Society, which Long deemed likeliest to host the highest number of people, and a volunteer group distributed rain ponchos, socks, jackets, and backpacks. Tuesday night also marked the centers’ first foray into checking in visitors via an electronic records system, which Long said will help them track trends in who uses the centers most. The drought has substantially affected the centers’ rates of opening, Long added, noting the 30 nights (and 2,200 beds provided) activated in dry 2013 compared to the wetter 2012, which saw 48 nights open and 4,168 beds provided.

From December through March, Casa Esperanza offers up 100 of its 200 total beds for winter shelter. Unlike the warming centers, Casa’s winter beds are only open to sober Santa Barbara residents, said Joe Tumbler, interim executive director. Those who use the winter beds aren’t required to join Casa’s programs but are admitted on a case-by-case basis and must abide by the organization’s “Good Neighbor” policy, meaning no loitering or nuisance-making, Tumbler said. He estimated that about 30 people currently occupy winter beds ​— ​a “much larger” number of people showed up but didn’t meet the sobriety and residency rules ​— ​and expects that figure to jump as the month continues.


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