SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. – Santa Barbara County Freedom Warming Centers started their assistance season Wednesday night for the unhoused individuals at the same time a storm brought rain to parts of the Central Coast.
"The warming center season starts on November 15th and runs through March 31st," said Brian Halterman, Freedom Warming Center Coordinator. "Last night was our first night of opening for the season, and we opened in all four regions."
When weather conditions warrant, the 24-hour shelters will operate in Santa Maria, Lompoc, Santa Barbara and Carpinteria.
"The warming centers are a cold weather are rainy weather shelter that opens when the weather reaches certain criteria of over 50% chance of rain under 35 degrees for the unhoused individuals of our community to find a safe place to sleep for the evening," said Halterman. "At the warming center, it allows individuals to find a nice, warm, dry place to sleep for the night. We make sure there is a dinner and a breakfast, but we also make sure that they get connected to the homeless service system by making sure we get them into that process."
"People think it's sunny in 72 in Santa Barbara all the time, and that's just not the case, said Reverend Julia Hamilton, Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara. "Wintertime weather here can be life threatening. The centers were created actually in response to the death of someone who went by the name of Freedom, who lived on the streets here in Santa Barbara, who died of exposure one evening in a rainstorm."
On Wednesday, about 70 people filled the warming center at Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara, with 10 each in Carpinteria and Santa Maria, as well as four in Lompoc.
"We had a big turnout last night, which indicates there are a lot of people who need shelter," said Hamilton. "A lot of things depend on how many people show up. The longer a storm goes on, the more people come in from the rain and the cold, so the fact that on the first night of rain, we had 70 people show up shows that the need is only going to increase as more and more people need a place to be dry."
With the weather drying on Thursday night and early Friday morning, only one site is being activated today.
"It is rainy enough today to open up the Santa Barbara site," said Halterman. "Tomorrow, Friday, all the sites will be open. So we'll be open in Santa maria, Lompoc, Carpinteria and Santa Barbara due to what that weather is going to do overnight Friday."
Halterman pointed out there are difficulties in deciding when to activate each site since forecasting the weather is not an easy task.
“The weather is the biggest challenge because we have to make these decisions 48 hours in advance, and so we really try to be in tune with what the weather is doing, trying to make sure that if it's going to be raining overnight," said Halterman. "We want to make sure we respond to that, where if it's going to be raining in the morning, we don't want to open overnight. If it just rained in the morning, we want to be ready when the rain hits, so (this job) is becoming a weather forecaster and hoping that you get it right."
As for getting the word out when the warming centers will be opening, Halterman also said there is a system in place that helps provide the information to those who need use of the centers.
"This is shared through a multiple different levels," said Halterman. "Number one, there is the Freedom Warming Center hotline that they can call that is updated when activations happen. They can call and it will tell them when, where and what times." It's posted on social media. There's a blast email that gets sent out to everybody, and then the outreach teams that are on the ground are out sharing that news everywhere with activation are set and ready to happen. They're boots on the ground. The outreach team is passing the word. Many of the sites that unhoused individuals visit will be posting a poster up saying activation is tonight."
Due to inclement weather in the forecast on Friday night, four warming centers will be open from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. tomorrow and are listed below:
- Santa Maria: Atkinson Center at 1000 North Railroad
- Lompoc: Events Mission Valley at 138 North B Street
- Santa Barbara: Trinity Episcopal Church at 1500 State Street
- Carpinteria: Veterans Memorial Building at 941 Walnut Avenue
The Warming Center hotline is 805-324-2372.