As temperatures dipped to unusually low levels earlier this week, pipes froze and burst across Petaluma and the Committee on the Shelterless (COTS) saw a 15 percent increase in the demand for a warm place to stay the night.
"It continues to be kind of crazy, the cold has just been wicked for days," said Mike Johnson, chief executive officer of COTS, who said that the need for warm beds continues to grow. "The first couple of days, a lot of people just hunkered down and get through it. But over time it wears on you, and people come in looking for warmth." To deal with the influx, COTS opened its severe weather barracks with 20 beds that offer respite from the icy cold. That's in addition to the organization's 100 permanent beds, for which there is a long waiting list. On Monday night, 15 of the 20 beds in the barracks were occupied Johnson said, adding that he expected all of the beds to be filled on Tuesday and Wednesday as the below freezing temperatures persisted.
"We'll never turn anyone away, even when we reach capacity," he said, pointing out that this cold snap has been deadly for a handful of homeless people across the Bay Area. "If need be, we'll put people on the floor with blankets instead of mats."
Monday was the coldest night of the week, when temperatures plummeted to 19 degrees at the Petaluma Airport, according to the National Weather Service. Spokesman Steve Anderson said the unusually cold weather blew in from the Yukon Territory of northern Canada, where temperatures have reached 30 below zero. Normally, chilly weather blows in over the water, which warms the air before it hits the Bay Area. But that didn't happen with this cold front.
"This one came straight down over land, it didn't go over the ocean," Anderson said on Tuesday, adding that the freezing temperatures would dissipate by the end of the week. "It'll be up above freezing by Friday morning."
Plumbers across Petaluma were in a frenzy Monday morning fielding dozens of calls about frozen and burst pipes. Roman's Plumbing Repair said it was the single busiest day the company has ever seen, and it was a struggle to meet the demand.
"With every one person we called back, we had five other voicemails right behind it," said Eleni Scanagatta, the office manager who spent Monday coordinating about 40 repair calls, just a fraction of the number of customers who sought their services. "It was the hardest day in the history of our business because we hate to say no to anyone who needs our help. But we just don't have the manpower to keep up with all the calls."
Joe Aguilar of Joe's Plumbing in Petaluma echoed those sentiments. "Oh my god, it's out of control," he said, explaining that he got more than 50 calls on Monday. "I'm just doing the best I can to keep up."
Scanagatta recommended wrapping exposed pipes in a foam insulation available at hardware stores to prevent pipes from freezing. Aguilar said leaving the faucet running will also help keep pipes from freezing over night.
(Contact Emily Charrier at firstname.lastname@example.org.)