Defined shelter: Sacramento County’s new mobile medical shelter is for shock and awe disasters only

Big gift from the state to be used during natural and health emergencies, but not for homelessness

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the January 18, 2018, issue.

In the event of a catastrophe—say, disastrous earthquake, epidemic outbreak, flooding or a hell of a wildfire—the Sacramento region may be a little more prepared.

Last week, the county accepted one of the state’s six mobile medical shelters, a 5,100-square-foot structure featuring six connecting tents, a power supply, heating and air conditioning, and beds for up to 50 people.

The mobile medical shelter is designed for sustained emergencies that last beyond three days. Specifically, it’s meant for patients who need some medical care but not serious hospitalization. State officials said the unit is ideal for major fires, triage and treatment during flu seasons. It can also serve as an emergency operations center that’s dropped into a disaster zone.

“Last February, Oroville sent a lot of evacuees to our county from assisted living facilities,” noted David Mangino, Sacramento County’s administrator of emergency medical services. “This would be able to accept and take care of those kinds of patients.”

County spokeswoman Samantha Mott said that, in the past, local officials had to put emergency evacuees into nursing facilities, but the new mobile shelter brings more flexibility because it can be set up in any parking lot. Nine counties will all be able to use the mobile shelter.

What the county’s new asset will not be deployed for is homeless assistance. Though some cities and counties in California have declared homeless emergencies—freeing up resources, equipment and funding—Sacramento has not. Mott confirmed the new mobile shelter won’t be deployed for local homeless residents.

“It’s intended … for people coming into our operational area that have medical needs,” Mott said.

That explanation didn’t make sense to Joan Burke, program director of Loaves & Fishes. “If homelessness is not an emergency, having people living outside without shelter, then what is?” she told SN&R. “Just because an emergency happens slowly doesn’t mean the end result is not an emergency.”