Ted C Wills Community Center is one of the three warming centers in Fresno that will be open through March 8, 2023 from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m., Credit: Cassandra Garibay

What's at stake?

Each of the warming centers are near capacity every night, demonstrating that need for shelter remains high, amid extreme weather.

Update: Fresno City officials announced that warming centers will be kept open until March 15. The latest updates on warming centers are available here.

Larry Eberhardt’s knees lock up often. After sitting for a while, the 69-year-old Fresnan said he can’t jump to his feet like he used to. 

Combined with cold temperatures and bouts of rain that have drenched Fresno this winter, it’s hard for Eberhardt to move around. He said he’s just thankful that the City of Fresno is keeping three warming centers open, so people without shelter, like himself, can have a warm place to go at night. 

“It’s been tremendous help because you don’t really got nowhere to go with all this rain and bad weather,” Eberhardt told Fresnoland. “This has been a real blessing for me. I really appreciate it.”

City officials announced late Monday that Fresno’s three warming centers, which were supposed to close on Feb. 28, would be kept open at night until the morning of March 8. The announcement came after Fresno got about three inches of rain since Friday. 

For another week, unhoused people in Fresno can still count on the Ted C. Wills, Maxie L. Parks and Mosqueda community centers being open from 6 p.m. until 8 a.m. — with cots, blankets and pet cages provided to those who show up.

This is now the third extension for the city’s warming centers during a winter that has brought unusually cold temperatures and more rain than Fresno typically gets. 

Fresno got 2.16 inches of rain on Friday and another .89 inches of rain spread out over the weekend, said Andy Bollenbacher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. That’s all thanks to an atmospheric river that stalled above the San Joaquin Valley, delivering steady rainfall for as much as 20 hours, he said. 

“We saw just a phenomenal amount of rain,” Bollenbacher said. “It’s quite significant for just about all parts of the valley.”

But unlike in January during the winter storm, the city of Fresno didn’t open up its warming centers 24/7, so unhoused people were stuck outside in the rain between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Friday and over the weekend.. 

On Friday, Richard Manuel Lopez, who is 65, sat in his wheelchair outside the Ted C. Wills center from 11:30 am, huddled under an outdoor area with a roof, near the center. He wasn’t able to keep warm during the day, and waited more than six hours — as rain poured all around him — until the warming center opened, shortly after sunset.

“It’s part of life,” Lopez said, adding that it would be better if the city kept the warming centers open 24/7 on rainy days. 

It’s people like Lopez, folks in their 60s and older, that Jeremiah Howard worries about. Even though Howard, 37, doesn’t have consistent shelter and goes to the Ted C. Wills community center in order to have a warm place to sleep at night, he said it’s elderly people and those with disabilities who are most vulnerable. 

He said he’s glad the center is being kept open another week, but wonders when the day will come that the city puts an end to them. 

“If they close all the warming centers on the 8th (of March), the big question is what then?” Howard said, gesturing to the dozens of people inside the Ted C. Wills community center Monday night. 

The warming centers’ extension is just in time for continued cold temperatures. Temperature lows at night on Tuesday and Wednesday are forecast to be 38 degrees. But on Thursday night, it may get as cold as 30 degrees.

While the city’s warming centers stay open, more attention has been brought to whether Fresno County should be partnering with the city to offer warming shelters. After all, counties are considered responsible for administering emergency and homelessness response.

“The city has stepped forward to provide these warming shelters that are serving the whole county because of the county’s failure to do so,” said Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias, whose district contains two of the city’s three warming centers. “It is now time for the county to step forward and be a partner or provide its own shelter facilities.”

Arias noted how the warming centers are almost always at capacity, demonstrating the great need for them. Arias said he requested more police patrols in the neighborhoods with warming centers to mitigate drug trafficking and encampments popping up nearby. 

The rough weather since Friday has caused power outages in many parts of Fresno County. 

County officials announced Monday night that Reedley College’s gymnasium was turned into a Red Cross shelter to provide cots, blankets, pillows and meals to residents of Yokuts Valley, Miramonte and Dunlap — where power outages and limited access to clean water have persisted since Saturday.

Rain is expected to continue in Fresno until late morning or afternoon on Wednesday, said Bollenbacher, the meteorologist. After that, Fresno will get a reprieve from the precipitation as Wednesday is expected to bring some sunshine. Thursday and Friday are also expected to be sunny days with little cloud cover, Bollenbacher said. 

He added, however, that more rain is expected at the start of next week.

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Omar Shaikh Rashad is the government accountability reporter for Fresnoland.

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