The last several weeks of extreme weather that brought continuous rain and high winds and caused flooding, dangerous downed trees and power lines, and several evacuations were really hard on the Sacramento area. But it also shed a light on the beauty of collaboration between government, non-profit agencies, advocates and community partners to help serve the most vulnerable – the unhoused residents of Sacramento County.
Staff members from various county departments spent countless hours around the clock doing outreach to encampments, coordinating and staffing several evacuation locations, and setting up meals, cots, portable showers and more for unhoused folks in need of respite from the flooding and high winds. County Behavioral Health staff provided mental health assessments and referrals for follow-up care at each of the shelter locations, as well as deployed out to encampments to provide materials to help folks shelter in place that weren’t interested in moving into a shelter. The County also partnered with our Managed Care Plans and providers to get individuals linked to ongoing Enhanced Care Management and Community Supports.
As the excessive rain, wind and flooding subside, the Sacramento County Office of Emergency Services (OES) has lifted all evacuation orders and warnings, the Regional Parks are reopening and the immediate weather emergency has ended. The County will return to normal winter respite operations.
Cal Expo was opened by OES as an evacuation center in the midst of the storms after an emergency declaration and a limited-term agreement with the State over the use of the facility. It was a joint effort between the OES, various County Departments and our contracted provider, First Step Communities, and support from the California Department of Social Services (CDSS). The County also extended access to Cal Expo to accommodate those displaced due to the closure of the Miller Park Safeground, and to other referrals of people impacted by flooding and storms through the City’s Department of Community Response (DCR). Due to other activities coming to the Cal Expo fairgrounds this week, the County assured Cal Expo that all unhoused guests transported from the Parkway or downtown Sacramento to Cal Expo would either be transferred to another facility or be returned to the neighborhood they were living in.
Now that Cal Expo is closed as an emergency evacuation center (due to the end of the storm emergency as well as previous space commitments at Cal Expo) but the Miller Park Safeground has not reopened, the County is working diligently to find respite options for all guests of Cal Expo, including those transported from the central city/Miller Park that is proximate to where they were living. Most guests of Cal Expo are being transitioned to other existing County sheltering programs. However, The County is opening the DHA 28th Street Lobby for overnight respite as we finalize the transition of individuals who were guests at Cal Expo. This space will be available from 7 p.m. – 7 a.m. through the weekend and a decision about the duration of this event will be based upon both the weather and capacity in our motel respite program. This location has capacity for about 60 people.
The County is still seeking additional partners to work with and locations that are appropriate for weather respite, as we still have more winter months in front of us. Not every space is viable for weather respite. Places of daily business, buildings without central heating and buildings located proximate to any childcare facility or school will not work for round-the-clock weather respite. The County also seeks to maintain its commitment to opening up respite locations where people are already living - which has constantly proved a challenge with space.
The County’s motel voucher weather respite program continues to be the number one most successful response to cold weather. While expensive, the program does not require internal staffing overnight, clients are more likely to say “yes” to a private, 24/7 space and capacity is only limited by the number of available rooms through the motel partners. The County is actively working with its motel partners on how it can increase capacity across all motels, but currently has more than 380 individuals occupying these rooms.
The County has also requested a continued increase in capacity of 30 from its non-profit partner, First Step Communities at the North A shelter. First Step is already operating that shelter and has staff and resources on location to accommodate additional folks for a short period of time.
The need for weather respite for unhoused is ongoing and dynamic. The County continues to work tirelessly in an effort to provide much-needed relief from the rain and cold to folks that are in need and urges our community, our non-profits and local governments to partner with us in this ongoing crisis.