The case for opening shelters at 40 degrees rather than 35 is simple. At 40, hypothermia can easily exist, and it is simply more humane to protect people from relatively cold weather whenever we can. This takes stress off our hospitals in dealing with homeless illness; moreover, the cost of shelter nights saves money when compared with hospitals and urgent care.
The real issue is an available all-winter shelter. A couple of armories are going unused, and there are also Earl Warren Showgrounds’ various facilities. I have little doubt that if county officials put forward a plan and justification for its emergency use, they would get it, just as they have in fire emergencies.
The important thing is for the county to push for one plan and facility, and to do so on the basis of an immediate crisis. Operation Roomkey in our county failed to locate sufficient motel and hotel rooms for the indigent.
Costs will obviously increase. Freedom Warming Centers were meant to augment, not replace, existing facilities and beds. The county should fund and make clear that the Freedom centers must be open more often and ideally all winter long. The present notion of sufficiency — that it is permissible or advisable to let the homeless in at 6 p.m. and force them out, in the cold, dark, and sometimes rain, at 6 a.m., has got to be set aside for something more thoughtful and humane. Middle-class folks, evacuated in a fire emergency, would not be treated that way.
Local organizations once ran a Winter Shelter at the Armory using homeless folks themselves as workers and monitors (with a social worker director). It worked fine and cost little. But in this case the cost should hardly matter. The supes owe to the homeless, and to the community, a decent all-winter shelter. If minds can be put to it, it can be done.