Freeze warning for Sonoma County homeless comes earlier this year

- The Bay Area’s freezing and near-freezing temperatures are forcing many people inside. In some parts of the Bay Area, emergency cold weather shelters are opening up for the homeless.

The first code-blue alert of the season was issued Thursday evening in Sonoma County. The warning came earlier than usual and it means homeless are sleeping inside an administrative building or under heated porches and patios.

Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa brought the heaters Thanksgiving night to help comfort those who gathered around. Two out of three of Sonoma County’s homeless live outdoors according to Catholic Charities.  But on cold nights like this, they come in for the warmth.

“I loved it here. Last night, I slept. I didn’t want to get up this morning,” said Dana Lablanc, a local homeless woman.  “I slept like a baby last night. I was warm.”  She and her partner, James Crawford, became stranded in Santa Rosa a year en route to Oregon. “I’m a welder by trade,” he said.

It’s their second night signed up for the overflow shelter. “It’s hard to find enough work in an affordable place,” Crawford said. “I haven’t been back to California in 17 years. When I came back everything skyrocketed.”

In a code-blue situation, it’s considered a health emergency where 100 extra cots and mats are placed into existing spaces on top of the 1,000 year-round beds in Sonoma County.

Hot drinks take the edge off, but many from the homeless population suffer chronic conditions and poor health and become even more fragile in the cold.

“We had somebody come in last night and he said, ‘I had resigned myself and I wasn’t sure if I was going to wake up in the morning.’ He luckily got connected to this and got to sleep in overnight. It can be very scary for people,”

Kindra Pedro, a shelter volunteer, and her son were once homeless themselves and were helped by the same agency.  Now she works as an elevator mechanic, but she and her son both still find time to volunteer their services.

“They supported me, they loved me through it and we’re successful now and it’s because of here. You give some, you take some,” Pedro said.

The administrative office space is where homeless people check mail, take showers and apply for services. The code blue alert is in effect at least through Sunday. A few dozen are expected to continue sleeping here throughout the weekend.

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