SF homeless shelters brace for additional guests on chilly New Year’s Eve 

click to enlarge St. Anthony's employees and volunteers gather at the foundation's dining room on Golden Gate Ave. setting up one of approximately 70 cots donated by the American Red Cross to help get The City's homeless off the streets on what the National Weather Service forcasts to be the coldest New Years Day morning in San Francisco since 1961. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • St. Anthony's employees and volunteers gather at the foundation's dining room on Golden Gate Ave. setting up one of approximately 70 cots donated by the American Red Cross to help get The City's homeless off the streets on what the National Weather Service forcasts to be the coldest New Years Day morning in San Francisco since 1961.

San Francisco homeless advocates were taking all possible steps to ensure The City's most vulnerable population did not have to ring in the New Year on the frigid streets.

With temperatures forecast to reach a low of 39 degrees early Thursday - the coldest New Year's Day morning in San Francisco since 1961 - The City on Wednesday implemented its Cold Snap Protocol for the third night this winter season that maximizes the resources of every shelter in San Francisco.

"This year we've had some very harsh weather conditions. It's absolutely critical that our most vulnerable are brought indoors," said Bevan Dufty, director of the Mayor's Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement, which addresses homeless services in The City.

The Cold Snap Protocol, a product of the Human Services Agency, aims to shelter as many of the 3,400 homeless residents living on San Francisco's streets as possible. It was first enacted this winter for two days in December during the largest storm to hit the Bay Area in at least five years.

City officials called for the Cold Snap Protocol Wednesday as already chilly weather conditions were expected to worsen, with the National Weather Service issuing a frost advisory for San Francisco from midnight until noon today.

When the protocol is activated, the 1,145 shelter beds available on a given night in The City increases to nearly 1,500 indoor spots for homeless residents to sleep. That includes the 130 emergency winter shelter beds that are accessible every night from the Sunday before Thanksgiving until March.

Staffers with the Homeless Outreach Team are also called on to perform wellness checks of those who remain on the streets overnight. They check for signs of hypothermia or other health conditions, and urge those still outdoors to seek shelter.

"If someone has hypothermia they don't realize it initially until it's too late," Dufty said. "There's a high level of coordination between The City and providers to make every available bed space accessible to people living on the street."

Among the organizations to open its doors overnight was the St. Anthony Foundation, which brought in about 70 cots from the Red Cross to offer guests a warm place to sleep on New Year's Eve. It was the third time the organization allowed guests to sleep in its new dining room, which opened last fall.

"It's easy to lose sight of the fact that living on the street is dangerous and poses health risks. That's true even on a nice day. In this cold weather it really becomes life threatening," said Karl Robillard, a spokesman for the St. Anthony Foundation.

The Tenderloin Hunger Task Force, a group of eight agencies that offer each other assistance during emergencies, was also set to mobilize on New Year's Eve for the second time this winter season.

The coordination efforts of the agencies, all of which help homeless and low-income residents, was highlighted during December's notorious storm when Glide Memorial Church lost power and other organizations provided mutual aid to ensure Glide's guests received food and shelter.

"Each agency can only do so much, but together we can do so much more," said Cissie Bonini, the task force's emergency systems coordinator.

Those who are concerned about the wellbeing of someone on the streets may call the Homeless Outreach Team's 24-hour line at (415) 734-4233.

Meanwhile, The City is expected to warm up this weekend as the tail end of a cold front leaves the region. Temperatures are anticipated to reach a more normal pattern of the mid-50s to low-60s by next week, according to the National Weather Service.

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Bio:
Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for Patch.com, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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