The coldest temperatures the North Bay has seen in more than a year have one of Sonoma County’s strongest homeless advocates on edge.
“It’s very worrisome,” said Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities. “I definitely had some sleepless nights this weekend, worried about people and what we’re going to do.”
Temperatures this week dipped to 25 degrees in Santa Rosa Tuesday morning and 33 degrees Wednesday. Lows Thursday were expected in the upper 20s. It marks the coldest weather the North Bay has seen since December 2016. In the past, such temperatures would prompt a “Code Blue” winter weather advisory — issued when temperatures drop below 32 degrees — urging the public and homeless advocacy groups to be on high alert for homeless residents who could be at risk. In response, shelters open up more beds and warming facilities. But this winter, Holmes said, advocates decided it would be better for both the homeless and the shelters to operate under “Code Blue” conditions all winter, rather than having to adjust services at a moment’s notice.
“If you don’t have access to the news and things like that, it’s hard to keep up, so we try to keep (our clients) informed (about the weather),” she said.
This week’s temperatures mean the county’s homeless shelters are at capacity, she said, even with 200 more winter beds bringing the total number to 1,200. The maxed-out shelters and frigid temperatures have increased tension among the county’s homeless population, Holmes said, from concerns about their health and safety.
“The concern is, ‘If I fall asleep, will I wake up?’ ” Holmes said. “We have people sleeping in the dining room. We have people sleeping everywhere we can place them just to get them out of the cold.” The frigid morning lows are likely to last into next week, said Brian Mejia, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, as a second front moves into the Bay Area from the north, followed afterward by another front that could bring rain before the month’s end.
For those who choose to remain outdoors in the cold, Holmes said, it can mean a shift in schedule — sleeping during the day when it’s warmer, and walking all night to keep core temperatures up.
“The cold is really painful, and it’s not just hard physically, but also emotionally for a lot of individuals,” she said. “It’s hard, too, when you know them. You say, ‘Oh, that’s Frank,’ you know? I think that’s part of the thing we need to work on as a community. People need to get to know these individuals.”
You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or email@example.com.