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Human Resources Department

Commission on Human Rights

For Immediate Release

Human Rights Commission Calls for Immediate Winter Freeze Relief for Unsheltered Persons Experiencing Homelessness

SANTA ROSA, CA | November 18, 2022

The human right to housing has been affirmed by Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reaffirmed by Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights on January 26, 2021 called for the County of Sonoma and the City of Santa Rosa to "provide Covid-19 safe winter shelter warming tents, sanitation" and other necessities to those who are unsheltered, to which there has been no reply. On June 22, 2021, the Commission on Human Rights also passed a resolution, declaring that homelessness in Sonoma County has become a Public Health Emergency.

There are some 3,000 unhoused people in Sonoma County but only 1,000 shelter beds. However, some 2,000 unsheltered persons still have not been provided with such life-sustaining necessities, have no legal place to rest and are thusly forced to live outdoors and are again facing another winter with freezing and below freezing temperatures.

Under the December 10, 2021 headline "Sonoma County Health Officials Issue Freeze Warning - Shelter Capacities Increased to Protect the Unhoused" authorities warned that County residents should "limit time outdoors, as serious medical conditions including hypothermia and frostbite, can develop with prolonged cold weather exposure," followed by an announcement that "Sonoma County's system of care partners with local service providers to offer winter shelter bed space, or other sleeping alternatives where shelters are not available...53 additional winter beds will be offered by County nonprofits. This is in addition to year-round shelters and helps protect community members from the harshest weather during the winter.

The County Department of Emergency Management in early December 2021, also issued under a separate red emergency banner "Emergency Readiness, Response & Recovery – Winter Storms and Extreme Cold," warning that "Frost or Freeze warnings pose a significant health risk, particularly to the elderly, young children, the unsheltered and those with chronic illness.” "City of Santa Rosa website when searching for Warming Centers that Caritas Village was identified as a location to open this winter. When called yesterday, by a concerned community member on November 16, 2022, they mentioned the city has not yet given the order to open, pending “3 consecutive nights reaching below 32 degrees”. Our forecast may not have been accurate in predicting the temps because so far it was recorded that Monday, November 14th was 31 degrees, Tuesday, November 15th was 32 degrees, and Wednesday, November 16th was 30 degrees." Three days of freezing and below freezing temperatures and Protocols were not followed.

It is well established that in times of other emergencies, municipal buildings have been designated in a matter of hours to house and care for large numbers of people such as wildfire victims complete with food, water, and adequate facilities for the newly homeless. Therefore the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights formally requests that authorities immediately honor this winter emergency in a humane manner by designating an unspecified number of unused spaces such as the Veterans Memorial Hall and Fairground buildings in Santa Rosa and other such facilities in municipalities throughout the County for the purpose of providing dry, warm places as safe haven and respite to the unsheltered who so desire it for as long as this harsh weather continues, a winter season usually considered to be through March of the subsequent year.

There should be no discrimination ever, especially in an emergency. The resources are available. This issue demands immediate response.

We, The Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights, demand that the Protocols for Emergency Freeze and Cold Warming Centers be revised. The County cannot wait until deadly temperatures are reached before providing lifesaving assistance.

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Press contact:
Katrina Phillips
(213) 254 8870