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Sacramento County activates motel voucher program for homeless as big storm arrives

·3 min read

Sacramento County has activated its severe weather sheltering program, giving motel vouchers to vulnerable homeless residents as heavy rainstorms are expected to batter Northern California over the next few days.

The program was activated by the county Department of Human Assistance, when “homeless outreach partners began actively issuing motel vouchers (Thursday) to highly vulnerable unsheltered persons,” the county said in a news release.

A new program added last year, Sacramento County’s weather respite program gives out vouchers for “up to 100 motel rooms for a minimum of three nights,” according to a county webpage. The number of vouchers given will depend on room availability at county-partnered motels.

“Participants in the weather respite sheltering program will work with their referring party on transportation to and from the motel and are allowed to bring partners, pets and possessions with them for the duration of their stay,” the release continues.

The strongest storm is expected in the capital region Sunday and Monday, as a “bomb cyclone” from the Pacific Northwest is forecast to produce a powerful atmospheric river system across most of Northern California.

The National Weather Service predicts Sacramento could get 3 to 4 inches of rain between Saturday and Tuesday, which would be by far the heaviest round of precipitation all year. Entering this week, the city had received less than 5 inches throughout all of 2021.

Wind gusts could reach 40 mph on Sunday, according to the weather service.

The county and city as of Friday morning did not plan to open weather respite centers for the coming storm.

The county’s voucher program is activated under three conditions: when rain is forecast for two or more consecutive days, with a chance of 60% or higher; when nighttime lows are forecast at 37 degrees or colder for two or more days within a five-day span; or when one day of rain is combined with a nighttime low of 32 degrees or colder.

Nighttime temperatures are expected to remain in the 50s, according to the weather service, so the program was activated solely by the rain.

In January, the city of Sacramento was heavily criticized for failing to open a downtown warming shelter during a storm that brought intense wind and rain. City manager Howard Chan said it was his decision not to open the center, citing concern about COVID-19 outbreaks, even though the center was open the two nights prior to the dangerous storm.

City-operated warming shelters in previous years have only opened when temperatures dropped below freezing.

At least four homeless men in Sacramento died of hypothermia last winter, on nights city and county respite centers did not open but when low temperatures ranged from the high 30s to mid 40s.

The City Council in March voted to keep weather respite centers open year-round, regardless of temperature. But in practice, cooling centers only opened sporadically during the summer, and the city’s plan for respite centers this coming winter remains largely up in the air.

Several hundred homeless people are currently sheltered by the county in non-weather-related centers, according to Friday’s news release, including 330 through Project Roomkey. Hundreds of others are at city-run shelters.

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