With overnight temperatures dropping below 40 degrees — every night last week, in fact — and the prospect of some actual rain looming, Santa Barbara’s streets have become a cold, mean place for those without shelter. On six of those nights, it dropped to 35 or below, plunging all the way to 31 on Saturday. In response, the city’s downtown homeless shelter — PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) — has activated its winter shelter services, accepting 78 more nightly visitors than usual. In years past, PATH has opened its doors for additional winter guests automatically, but this year — for the first time since its inception — the shelter opted to provide such services only when the temperature dropped to 40 or below or chances of rain exceeded 50 percent for two consecutive nights.
Picking up some of the slack have been the emergency Freedom Warming Centers, named after a homeless person named Freedom who froze to death several years ago. Downtown warming shelters — operating out of several churches — have been taking in up to 90 guests a night, but they’re not open as frequently or even as reliably. Warming centers open only when the mercury drops to 35 or below, so for Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, they weren’t available.
This year may have been one of the hottest on record in Santa Barbara, but it’s also been significantly colder than average — by about five degrees — this week. Making life more problematic for those on the streets is PATH’s decision to not provide regular winter service hours, a surprise decision that aroused the wrath of at least one county supervisor. In addition, the Rescue Mission — in the middle of a major remodel — has significantly cut back the number of beds it’s been able to offer. In response to the recent cold snap, PATH administrators announced they will provide winter services through March 5.