While most Santa Barbara residents can count on four walls and roof over their head to keep them comfortable during cold nights and rainy days, members of the city’s homeless population have to hope local shelters and warming centers have a space for them. Though some can manage to find an overhang to sleep under and bundle up enough to tolerate the cold, those seeking a more comfortable accommodation have limited options.
The Freedom Warming Center sets up overnight stays for homeless individuals in local churches, but only if it gets cold enough or weather forecasts show more than a 50 percent chance of rain. While the Warming Center in the north county hit its 35-degree cold threshold the past two days, the south county’s did not. When the News-Press called the Freedom Warming Center on Thursday morning, its automated message said only Santa Barbara’s north county center would open between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., while the south county center would remain closed as it did the night before. Freedom Warming Center community engagement coordinator Angel Lopez told the News-Press that the low outside temperature in the south county Wednesday evening was not forecasted to fall below threshold and “trigger” the center’s opening.
“When we made the decision it was over 35, so that’s why we made the decision not to activate,” he said.
This decision is made 48 hours ahead of time in order to give the Freedom Warming Center time to coordinate with local churches, which open their doors and allow the center’s personnel to set up and manage the overnight stays.
“It’s not a day-of type of thing,” Mr. Lopez said.
According to the Freedom Warming Center website, its church collaborators in Santa Barbara include the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, Trinity Episcopal Church, First United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church, and First Congregational Church.
County and City-funded PATH Santa Barbara has 100 year-round beds open for those seeking housing, but in the past two weeks has opened its additional 100 inclement weather beds open to homeless individuals seeking shelter from the cold and stormy weather. According to PATH regional director Tessa Madden Storms, the organization opens its additional beds if temperatures fall below 40 degrees or weather forecasts indicate a 50 percent chance of rain. PATH is committed to keeping these beds open until January 11.
David Hopkins, a companion care coordinator at the nonprofit Doctors Without Walls, said many homeless individuals are caught in an “endless battle,” as those who aren’t lucky enough to find shelter are sometimes forced to set up tents and risk getting citations. When they are unable to pay the citations and end up in “the only warm place they can get,” jail, their chances of getting employment and out of the mire of homelessness are severely impacted when they have to address misdemeanors on their records.
The News-Press caught up with several homeless individuals near the corner of the Santa Barbara Museum Art at the intersection State St. and Anapamu St. Thursday afternoon. Most of them said they expected to be out in the cold that night.
Ryan Anderson said that he had been combating the cold and rain by “building up layers and seeking out a spot where there’s an overhang,” and would do so again since the nearest Freedom Warming Center wouldn’t be opening.
Another, who just gave her first name Trisha, said she was wearing layers and stayed at a warming center for two nights at Trinity Episcopal Church the past week. On Thursday however, she didn’t have eight dollars to spare on a trip up to the nearest open warming center in the north county and risk not getting in, so would “just freeze for another night.”
Bradley Beach said he stayed at the Warming Center when it was open the past week, but was out on the street other nights and got wet during the day. In his opinion, there aren’t enough indoor places for homeless individuals to stay when it gets cold and rainy.
“We could use more warming shelters, we really could,” he said.
Mr. Anderson told the News-Press that it would be of great help to Santa Barbara’s homeless population if the Warming Center took a page out of PATH’s book and raised its 35 degree threshold to 40 degrees, which would give them more chances to sleep in from the cold.
“There’s only a handful of nights out of a winter where it’s 35 or below,” he said.
According to the National Weather Service meteorologist Lisa Phillips, today will have high temperatures of 58 degrees and a low of 44 degrees. A storm system is forecasted to move into Santa Barbara tonight and deliver rain until Saturday morning. A 59 degree high and a 43 degree low are forecasted for Saturday, while Sunday is expected to have a 60 degree high, 42 degree low, and a chance of rain.