Raise the Warming Center Temperature This COVID Year

35 Degrees Courts Illness

A homeless woman sleeping on State Street | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

I have slept in wet weather below 40 degrees for too many years not to say something about it when I see the homeless population getting ready to endure another year out in the wet and cold. Only this year, COVID-19 is adding to their fear of the cold, wet months to come.

With the virus going around and bad weather coming, homeless people will be given a choice of going into the warming center, which is only open if forecasts predict rain or temperatures below 35 degrees. I didn’t know it back when I was sleeping outdoors and it was below 40 degrees, but that’s the same temp used to refrigerate a dead body at the mortuary.

If homeless people do decide to go into the shelter, they now have to consider the possibility of getting ill from sleeping next to a stranger who might be symptomatic with COVID or the everyday flu. And only to be told by the warming center staff: “It’s 5 a.m. Time to get up! Everyone has to be out of here in 45 minutes.”

Well, most of the time it is still raining and cold, which means most people are going to get wet, and their belongings, too, including their only sleeping bag. In the days that follow, even with no rain, if the temperatures stay in the 30s — that’s really when people get ill with all their wet belongings not being able to dry.

Their other choice to avoid getting cold and wet is to stay in their own tent, staying away from people with the virus or from spreading it. Since the order was made to let people stay in their tent home, an overwhelming amount of unhealthy debris has accumulated along the railroad tracks, parks, beachfront, creek beds, and the on- and off-ramps along the freeway.

With most bathrooms locked, the few outhouses throughout the city are not enough, nor are they sanitary. I see no extra trash receptacles or any type of trash pickup programs to keep areas clean, as they do in cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, and Fort Worth.

With all this in mind, I saw the giant tent at Earl Warren Showgrounds, there only to protect the Christmas trees. Immediately, I wondered, why do we not have the same kind of tent to protect the people outdoors, in the elements, serving as a place for warmth, food, restrooms, and health care? It could be called a temporary community center. People could set up their tents in the surrounding area and stay safe, keep warm, and leave the city cleaner. Imagine letting people stay in their own tents in an organized manner on the lawns of Earl Warren, a parking lot for safe parking with people in their cars, a lot for RVs, and a fenced area for families with kids experiencing homelessness.

Allowing all these people to live as a safe community for a few months to maybe even save one life would be worth it in times like this. —David Hopkins

Credit: Courtesy

Santa Barbara is one of the richest cities in our nation, yet we are still facing the inhumane treatment of our unhoused citizens.

We need to help our elected officials see that it is wrong to set the temperature for opening warming centers at 35 degrees or below. Frostbite can occur at 59 degrees in the right conditions.

This winter, the criteria for opening the Warming Centers is 35 degrees. Why do we call it a Warming Center? We should call them Thaw Centers instead, right?

The Warming Centers will open up when a 50 percent chance of rain is forecast. How about the times when a 30 percent chance brings rain? This leaves out many people on a cold and rainy night.

Before the creation of the Freedom Warming Centers, some remember what it was like to be lucky enough to find an overhang near a building in the city. Many times, the street people were chased out into the rain by the city police to wander the rest of the night, looking for another place to keep warm and dry. It was trespassing, they used to say.

Home refrigerators are set at 40 degrees and below to keep our food cold. How can we ask people to stay outside in such temperatures?

We even have reports of people who have experienced frostbite over the years. Freedom — the man who died in the cold, who stirred the hearts of this community and opened the Warming Centers — froze when it was just under 40 degrees. How can we not take action? How can we not get involved to at least move the 35-degree opening temperature to opening the doors at 40 degrees instead? We are sure that we all could breathe a lot easier knowing that we are doing something that can help keep the whole community safer.

We must note that it is not that easy to be in charge of the task of opening these centers. The budget is not as high as it needs to be. And of course, the food preparation, and those with the people skills to fit the needs of the users need to be willing to volunteer. But honestly, it is so much better when we can pull up our sleeves and really do something. —Nancy McCradie


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