With more freezing temperatures and potential rain on the horizon, Santa Clara County has set up an overnight warming shelter for unhoused people in downtown San Jose.
A new shelter opened Thursday night at the California Army National Guard building, located at 251 W. Hedding St. in San Jose. Shaunn Cartwright, a homeless advocate and founder of the Unhoused Response Group, said a county official notified her and other activists about the shelter.
“We’re super thankful to the county because they’re the only ones who seem to realize there’s an emergency and are doing something to address it,” Cartwright told San José Spotlight.
Consuelo Hernandez, director of the county’s Office of Supportive Housing, told San José Spotlight several partners collaborated to open the overnight warming location, including San Jose, Abode Services, Goodwill of Silicon Valley, Destination: Home and others.
The site, run by the county and its partners, is open 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day for roughly the next week, Hernandez said. The shelter has the capacity to house 60 to 70 people.
“They can walk in,” Hernandez said. “It’s pretty much like any of our other shelters. It’s a space for them to get respite from inclement weather.”
Cold weather is posing a growing threat to unhoused people in the South Bay. San Jose opened two temporary overnight warming centers earlier this month as temperatures started to drop. For several years, the city has relied on a state law that allows it to transform publicly-owned buildings into temporary shelters, serving about 3,000 people since 2015. San Jose’s warming centers are scheduled to stay open for more than 130 consecutive nights this winter.
The county reached a new high of 250 deaths on the streets this year, possibly the worst toll in the past decade, according to advocates. Many of those deaths were likely due to exposure—at least five people died from cold weather in a single night in mid-December.
“Individuals who spend prolonged periods of time outside, coupled with wet conditions, inadequate clothing, and mental health and substance use, increase their risk of cold-related injury or death,” said Linda Jones, who works for the county’s Office of Supportive Housing, in an email to advocates.
Hernandez said in an email that outreach workers and community partners are handing out blankets, ponchos, hand warmers and beanies at encampments. They’re also spreading the word about two cold-related dangers: paradoxical undressing and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Paradoxical undressing occurs when people experiencing extreme cold remove their clothing. This behavior seems to be caused by cold-induced paralysis of the nerves around blood vessel walls, leading to vasodilation, giving a person a sense of warmth.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur when people are in enclosed spaces with carbon monoxide, such as an idling car in a garage or an oven left on in a house without ventilation.
Scott Largent, a homeless advocate who lives in an RV near the Spring and Hedding streets encampment, told San José Spotlight he’s seen several half-naked people wandering around in the cold weather. He’s also concerned about people relying on propane tanks to heat their RVs or tents, but the freezing temperatures have made it necessary, including for himself.
His concerns were validated in early December when a propane tank attached to an RV at an encampment exploded as it was being fixed.
“I would never hook up propane if I didn’t have to do it,” Largent said. “My buddy is using his stove in a pop-up tent trailer… It’s a big risk doing it that way.”
People in Santa Clara County seeking shelter can call the shelter hotline: (408) 385-2400. To access overnight warming locations, call (408) 510-7600.