Sacramento mayor calls for homeless weather respite center to open 24/7

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Ahead of a new report anticipated to show a significant increase in Sacramento’s homeless population, Mayor Darrell Steinberg announced he wants to open the city’s homeless weather respite center around-the-clock.

The 50-space center, located at the former Powerhouse Science Center on Auburn Boulevard, currently only opens when strict temperature thresholds are met.

“I’m not going to allow a vacant city asset that is large and that is perfect for city (homeless services) to just lay fallow,” Steinberg said.

The council is expected to consider the item at its meeting July 19, Steinberg said.

In addition to being open all day and night for the homeless to get out of the elements, the center under Steinberg’s proposal would also serve as a so-called navigation center where people could be connected with services, such as help finding housing, getting state identification cards, mental health and medical care..

That would allow people to access those services even if they do not get one of the highly- competitive city or county shelter beds, which are full on any given night.

The center would serve hundreds over time, Steinberg said.

“It’s a significant move because we have been searching for a longer-term triage center for our unsheltered population,” Steinberg said.

The city is already paying nonprofit Hope Cooperative $3.3 million for the center — an amount that would not increase if it opens daily.

It’s possible the city could provide transportation for homeless individuals to get to the center at 3615 Auburn Blvd. It’s near camps along Arcade Creek but far from many encampment in downtown and along the American River Parkway. A Regional Transit bus stop is nearby as well.

The council planned to open a 24/7 center at the site since early last year, but then Councilman Sean Loloee, who represents the area, blocked it after hearing concerns from the neighboring nonprofit Children’s Receiving Home.

The center did not open all winter. In March the council voted to start opening the center but only when certain temperature thresholds are met.

For heat, it opens when there is a National Weather Service heat advisory, which occurred Tuesday and Wednesday. Temperatures hit triple digits four days after that, but the weather service did not issue a heat advisory and the center did not open.

Homeless activists Friday filed a federal lawsuit seeking a court to order the city and county open more buildings to get homeless individuals out of the heat.

Two homeless individuals died with heat stroke as one of multiple causes of death in 2020, the latest year for which the information is available, according to the coroner’s office.

Sacramento’s point-in-time count, a federally-required census of homeless people, will be released Tuesday. It’s expected to show thousands more people are now homeless in Sacramento County than in January 2019.

Steinberg also called upon county officials to provide more services to the homeless, especially for mental health and substance use.

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