Dianne Fitzgerald sat on a bench outside the Hart Senior Center in Midtown Sacramento on Thursday, as temperatures climbed past 100 degrees for the second day in a row. She had no idea that yards away, city officials had opened a cooling center inside the building to provide relief for people trapped in the oppressive heat.
“I haven’t really needed one until today,” Fitzgerald said as she pushed a small cart with her belongings toward the building after learning about the cooling center. “It got hot all of the sudden the last couple of days.”
Despite the heat, Fitzgerald is one of only a few dozen people who have taken advantage of the large, spacious cooling centers that opened across Sacramento County this week. And that’s typical of how things go when the centers open.
Advocates for homeless residents say more must be done to advertise the facilities and provide transportation to them.
“We were really surprised when we walked in because we thought it was going to be packed,” said Dani Dixon, who along with her teenage son and dog were the only ones at the Midtown cooling center early Thursday afternoon, before Fitzgerald arrived.
Dixon said her landlord kicked tenants out of their apartments that morning to perform maintenance work, forcing her to find somewhere cool. She said she was aware of the resource because she works for 211 Sacramento, an information referral service that helps people find resources like cooling centers.
The facilities, which offer water, snacks and air conditioning during the hottest part of each day, have become a flashpoint in the debate over how to help the region’s thousands of homeless residents when it gets really hot or cold. Advocates say the barebones emergency shelters should be open year-round.
But there aren’t any city or county plans to do that currently, and county officials say their motel voucher program, which provides free motel stays to unhoused residents, is typically a better way to get people off the streets during extreme conditions. Officials have said it costs about $1,900 to operate a warming or cooling center for 12 hours.
“This (voucher program) approach offers several advantages to cooling centers — it relies on outreach partners to identify unsheltered persons who would not otherwise
be reached,” Janna Haynes, a county spokesperson, wrote in an email earlier this month. “It offers several days of stay (compared to an overnight/daytime stay at a cooling center), and it allows people to shelter with pets and partners and in privacy.”
Starting on Wednesday, city officials opened cooling centers at the Hart Senior Center at 915 27th St. and at Hagginwood Community Center in Del Paso Heights at 3271 Marysville Blvd. Between the two sites, a dozen people attended the first day and 16 showed up on Thursday, said Tim Swanson, a city spokesperson. Attendance for Friday was not immediately available.
Both are expected to remain open on Saturday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Swanson, the city spokesperson, said officials publicized the cooling centers on social media and shared information with community partners and news outlets. He said they also informed residents at the city’s recently opened safe ground sites, which are city-sanctioned locations where homeless residents can camp or park their vehicles.
Haynes said county officials had taken similar steps. They also contacted elderly clients that might not have access to air-conditioning, she said. She also cited 211 as a good resource for information about cooling centers.
City officials said Sacramento Public Libraries, including the Library Galleria downtown, will also be open to all residents this week and open during normal business hours. They encouraged residents to check the library website for hours.
Meanwhile, despite its preference for vouchers, Sacramento County has used five county department of human assistance service centers as cooling centers this week, extending normal business hours to 8 p.m. for the general public. They had served a total of 23 people the first two days, said Janna Haynes, a county spokesperson. Friday’s numbers were not available.
The centers are located at:
- 2700 Fulton Ave., Sacramento
- 5747 Watt Ave., North Highlands
- 2450 Florin Road, Sacramento
- 3960 Research Drive, Sacramento
The county centers will be open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Another center that had been opened at 1725 28th St. in Sacramento closed Friday because of a broken air conditioner.
Temperatures in Sacramento are expected to hover near 100 degrees this weekend before dropping into the low 90s on Monday before shooting back up well over 100 degrees the following weekend.
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