With nighttime temperatures dropping to the low 30s, Santa Barbara County’s church-based emergency warming centers for the homeless have been activated, serving about 175 people a night. The maximum capacity of the centers is about 250.
During heavy rains the week before, the demand was even more intense, said Erin Wilson of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, who administers the program. Anecdotally, Wilson said Santa Barbara’s shelter — Casa Esperanza PATH — has been maxed out with 200 visitors a night. “A lot of people who come to the warming shelter are resistant,” she pointed. Unlike the shelter, the warming centers do not have strict sobriety rules, only requiring that guests behave and get along. Wilson said the shelters have about 1,000 volunteers who help with staffing and food preparation and about 26 paid staff who work rotating shifts. Wilson said the shelters can always use financial contributions and that new white socks — which she termed “white gold” — are greatly appreciated. “When your feet are cold, you are cold,” she said.
Unconfirmed reports indicate one homeless man died by the Moreton Bay Fig tree during the recent cold spell, but the cause of death also remains uncertain. Wilson said 75 percent of last year’s warming center guests self-reported that they visited hospital emergency rooms less frequently because of access to the warming centers. That data, however, has not been verified with the emergency rooms of county hospitals.