After reports emerged this week revealing that the recent bout of icy weather throughout California has destroyed an estimated $1 billion of the state’s citrus crops, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency yesterday in 10 counties along the coast, including Santa Barbara.
On Tuesday night, temperatures dropped to 25 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time in January since 1976, leaving the county’s large homeless population to face the blistering winds outdoors. In response to the record low temperatures, the county’s Public Health Dept. – aided by help from the American Red Cross – opened three extra shelters in Santa Barbara County from Jan. 12 to 15 to accommodate transients seeking refuge from the cold.
Louise Kolbert, director of emergency services for the Santa Barbara chapter of the American Red Cross, said the “warming centers” were advertised by word-of-mouth and announced in newspapers. She said police “patrolled aggressively” this past weekend for homeless residents and took those they found to one of three centers in Lompoc, Santa Maria and Santa Barbara.
According to Dana Gamboe, program administrator for the Public Health Dept.’s Healthcare for the Homeless program, there are 6,100 homeless people in Santa Barbara County.
While no transients stayed overnight in the Lompoc shelter during the three-day period, the Santa Maria location took in two extra visitors because of the cold, and the Santa Barbara shelter housed an extra 34.
Michael Foley, executive director of the Casa Esperanza homeless shelter in Santa Barbara, said the shelter has been filled to capacity in the past week. Foley said free bus rides were offered to a Red Cross warming center for people turned away from the shelter for lack of room.
Despite the extra space allocated for Santa Barbara County’s homeless population this week, some transients have expressed disinterest in taking advantage of the services.
Yesterday, three local transients spending the day in Anisq’ Oyo’ Park said they became aware of the additional accommodations for the homeless from advertisements in local newspapers, but did not plan to stay in any of them.
“The problem with the shelters is that they are designed for families,” one of the men, who identified himself as Harold, said. “They’re not designed for a 30-year-old that can work.”
Kolbert said trained American Red Cross volunteers were on hand to distribute blankets and help feed the visitors. She said the Red Cross spent approximately $500 on food and other supplies, which the Public Health Dept will reimburse the organization for.
“It is not part of American Red Cross’ mission statement to assist the homeless,” Kolbert said. “There was no out-of-pocket expense [for us] this weekend.”