.Warming Centers – Why is Sonoma County going backwards?

Last Dec. 28, Homeless Action! sent out an urgent plea for emergency warming centers to protect Sonoma County’s unsheltered residents during the four consecutive below freezing nights forecast to begin the next day. The Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights immediately supported the plea. The same four-day sub-freezing cycle repeated itself in February.   

Sonoma County, essentially caught with its pants down, did nothing. Because no county agency called an alert during either freeze, nobody could prepare for the emergencies in a timely fashion. In fact, to this day the county has no protocol and it still seems to be unclear to all concerned as to who’s responsible for declaring a countywide freeze emergency.

For the winter season 2018-2019, the county partnered with service providers to offer 282 extra beds every night during the winter months. This winter, the county offered only 53 beds. Why was funding cut? Why are we going backwards?   

The Santa Rosa City Council passed a new freeze policy on March 29. A positive step at first blush, but a closer look reveals some disturbing flaws. Last December, Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers had reason to believe that an emergency would be declared by the county health department when a forecast showed three consecutive nights at 35 degrees or lower, or one night of subfreezing temperatures. Compare that with Santa  Rosa’s new parameters: no alert until forecasts of three consecutive subfreezing (31 degrees) nights and/or three nights of heavy rain. This is a harsh setback for those who sleep in tents with crummy sleeping bags and a few flimsy blankets.

Both Homeless Action! and the County Commission on Human Rights have pointed out that since the Veteran’s Memorial Hall was set up in a jiffy for fire victims, we can do the same for the unsheltered.

As commission chair Katrina Phillips remarked in December, the civil and human rights of the unhoused are being violated. “There should be no discrimination ever, but especially not in an emergency. The resources are available. This issue demands immediate response.”

Kathleen Finigan is a longtime activist and represents District 1 on the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights.
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