A warm place can save lives

It’s a sad irony that anyone would die of cold in sunny California, but even in beach communities such as Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, hypothermia and exposure have been contributing factors in the deaths of homeless people.

As recently as last month, for example, two people — a 54-year-old man and 52-year-old woman — were found dead at two Costa Mesa strip malls on the same frigid night, prompting city officials to step up efforts to offer emergency housing, blankets and medical care to people living on the street.

These are extreme cases, granted, but spending nights in the rain or freezing cold can seriously undermine anyone’s health and can be especially dangerous to the medically fragile.

Several communities, including San Luis Obispo, open “warming centers” on cold and wet nights. South County doesn’t have one — nor does it have an overnight homeless shelter — but a group of volunteers plans to do something about that.

The 5Cities Homeless Coalition, the same group that’s trying to open a daytime homeless services center, proposes to operate an overnight warming center in Arroyo Grande, at the county Department of Social Services building on East Grand Avenue.

Under terms of an agreement to be considered by the Board of Supervisors today, the nonprofit would be allowed to open the conference room and adjacent restrooms at the Social Services building at night when the temperature is forecast to dip to 32 degrees or lower or there is a 50 percent chance of rain forecast for that night and the following night.

If the board approves, the proposal will then go to the city of Arroyo Grande for review.

We see no reason why it shouldn’t sail through.

The need is clear: The recent homeless census counted 416 people in South County, and there’s a dearth of services for them; the closest homeless shelters are in San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria.

The plan also is financially sound: Because volunteers will operate the center, there will be no cost to the county.

We strongly urge county and city officials give the project their blessing.

Allow the 5Cities Homeless Coalition to provide a basic service that could make a life-or-death difference someday.