Santa Rosa activates emergency warming center for Tuesday and Wednesday night

Areas in the North Bay could see temperatures near freezing Tuesday night, followed by rain later in the week. So Santa Rosa has activated its emergency warming center protocol for the first time this season, and in a new location. 

Kelli Kuykendall, the homeless services manager for Santa Rosa, said a policy set by the city last year says that when there are 3 consecutive days of cold or rain, an emergency warming shelter will be activated. 

"This week we’re having a combination of both, starting with extreme cold and followed by rain," said Kuylendall. 

This is the first time the emergency warming center in being held at Caritas VIllage, a service center that just opened in September. Caritas Village includes a housing-focused service center, emergency family shelter, clinic, and 128 units of permanent affordable housing for those in need. 

The drop-in center that is usually only open during the day will stay open overnight from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. 

There are hot drinks, snacks and couches for people to enjoy. There are also washers, showers and areas to charge cell phones available. 

"It’s really a safe place for them to come in and really get basic dignity and health services," said Jennielynn Holmes, the chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, who helps run Caritas. "Not everyone is ready for a shelter opportunity, but we also know that they still need to be out of the cold."

Kuykendall said there are about 2,800 people experiencing homelessness in Sonoma County. That includes about 1,600 people in Santa Rosa. She said about 1,000 of them don't have overnight shelter. 

"Some people die when they just lay down and they just sit there, and they just die. Hypothermia or exposure, it’s just done," said Rob McDowell.

McDowell knows all too well what it's like to sleep outside in the cold. He said he's been homeless for 18 years. 

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"It’s cold, I mean if you have enough blankets if the cops don’t take it from you. There’s no housing for us, there are no beds at the shelter and people have specific needs, and it’s not being met," said McDowell.

He said without the warming center at Caritas, he'd be sleeping under an overpass. 

About a dozen people were outside the drop-in center an hour before it opened Tuesday night, waiting to get inside and out of the cold.

"It’s cold, this is the best thing, it’s amazing. You’ll lose your fingers out here," said another man heading into the shelter. 

There have been a few different iterations of warming shelters in Santa Rosa over the years, but last winter it was outside with space heaters. So being able to hold this shelter indoors in a brand new building will make a big difference to many people. 

"It’ll be a warm place to sleep for a lot of people. And that’s hard, a lot of people walk around all night just trying to stay warm, just trying to stay warm," said McDowell.