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Social service providers scramble to shelter homeless during cold snap

  • Volunteer Kim Smith, right, hands a cup of hot coffee to Bill Keller at Catholic Charities' Homeless Services Center on Morgan Street in Santa Rosa, Calif., on December 5, 2013. The Homeless Services Center is providing warming stations and hot food to Santa Rosa's homeless during the recent cold weather. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

Bone-chilling cold has Sonoma County social service providers scrambling to provide shelter for those most vulnerable: folks without homes.

A spate of freezing nights that are expected to continue through the weekend in some areas warrants attention on everyone's part, whether to safeguard pets and livestock, keep back yard plants from freezing or avoid driving on icy roads.

Wet weather forecast for Friday — even with meteorologists withdrawing predictions of snow — increases the risk of hypothermia, enhancing the urgency for providing of shelter for those without, providers said.

Homeless Services Center

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A change in the weather can be a matter of life or death for the estimated 3,300 county residents accustomed to sleeping outside, according to the last countywide homeless count.

"When you stack the rain on top of the cold, then it gets really dangerous because you can't really get warm when everything's damp," said Mike Johnson, chief executive for the Committee on the Shelterless in Petaluma.

Temperatures early Thursday dropped to 20 degrees in some areas of west Sonoma County, and hovered in the low and mid-20s elsewhere, the National Weather Service said.

The coldest community in the area appeared to be Graton, at 19 degrees, meteorologist Steve Anderson said. In Napa County, the airport came in at 16 degrees, however.

At the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport north of Santa Rosa, the mercury hit 24 degrees, matching the record from Dec. 5, 1972 at the previous downtown Santa Rosa data collection site, according to the National Weather Service.

Overnight lows are forecast to be in the 20s and low 30s until at least Tuesday night — warming slightly for a bit of rain Friday afternoon and Friday night —- then slowly warming a few degrees a day after that, the weather service said.

Social service agencies have added capacity for 102 more people in local shelters that already provide 584 beds year-round, said Jenny Helbraun Abramson, who coordinates planning for homeless services in Sonoma County. That's about a 17 percent expansion this week, she said.


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