I get tired of saying what follows, but no one else is saying it — at least out loud.
I watched the 6 p.m. weather report on Wednesday. The announcer said temperatures reached a low of 35 degrees the night before or early that morning in Santa Barbara.
Repeat: 35 degrees in the city of Santa Barbara, low enough for the Freedom Warming Centers to be open. But, as far as I know, they were not and are not open. They are elsewhere in the county, but apparently not here in the city.
I do hope I am mistaken, but I checked with others who would know. And if the warming centers are not open, how and why did this happen? Was it because sufficiently low temperatures were not predicted?
Of course, when the wind-chill factor is considered, it makes people even colder than the thermometer indicates. We all know that. And anyone out that night — even at midnight, when the temps had not yet dropped as low as they eventually would, but when the chilly winds were blowing — will know what I mean.
Even when the temperature had not reached 35 degrees, as it finally did, the warming centers clearly should have been open.
One point I am making here is that the shelters must open when anything lower than 40 degrees is predicted. Sometimes it gets colder than predicted, and even if it doesn’t, 40 is itself pretty darn cold for people to have to sleep outside without shelter.
And please remember this, in relation to rain: As things now stand, even when warming centers are open, folks still must leave at 6 a.m., going straight back, no matter how hard it may be raining, into the rain. And then, at 6 p.m. walking from wherever they are to wherever they can find, or had, shelter.
Is it any wonder that fewer people might use the warming centers?
Also remember our laws forbidding “camping,” which means erecting shelter for oneself and protecting yourself against the weather. This is why we must have year-round shelter.
My point is: The Freedom Warming Center regulations must be changed as soon as possible — right now, if possible (and we should all get together to make it possible). If not now, then certainly next year, without question, without quibbling, without the begrudging of funds.
I know sometimes we’re surprised when it gets colder than we’d thought it would. Fair enough. But it is far better to err, if we have to err, by opening the centers and then finding out they need not have opened, than it is to not open them and then discover they should have been open.
I need not remind you of the street deaths in the cold that caused some of us to get the warming centers started. They’re named after one of the men, nicknamed “Freedom,” who died, in his wheelchair, of hypothermia.
Hypothermia. Look it up. It can occur under various sets of circumstances and is not directly related to the thermometer; it is related to sharp drops in body temperature when people are not sufficiently protected, and it can also happen to people already in bad health, to the elderly, to children, to the mentally ill unable to adequately care for themselves and, if I understand it right, it can occur under certain circumstances at temperatures well above freezing.
Drinkers, too — Freedom was one — are particularly endangered because of the effects of alcohol on the body and the fact that people, if drunk or befuddled, can fall sleep or drift into unconsciousness. This is what happened to Freedom, and they fail to adequately protect themselves as the temperature drops.
Think here, too, of some of those released at night from jail, seven miles out of town, wearing only what they had on in the daytime. That’s why we began the Jail Ride Program, now run by the Sheriff’s Department, but not always.
No doubt many of us, or at least some, shudder in fear on cold nights for the homeless, But more important still, we must be sure to shelter them. Who does not understand that? If we have to figure out how to do it, then let’s get together and do it.
If there are not enough churches for winter shelters, what about City Hall or the county building? Don’t laugh. Many cities do it. Why not ours, if we have to?
Ultimately, after all, shelter is the responsibility of our civil authorities, the county supervisors and the City Council. But both groups act as if this were not their business. It is.
We, all of us — but especially those in and with power — have to act.
The author, Peter Marin, lives in Santa Barbara.