Rain from the behemoth storm hitting the Bay Area had reduced to a drizzle in the afternoon on Jan. 4, but for some unhoused people in Mountain View, the brief respite meant time to prepare for what was to come.
Mountain View resident Elisa, who sleeps at a local shelter with her son at night but also owns an RV, was attempting to get a tarp secured atop her vehicle near the Shoreline safe parking lot before the worst of the storm was predicted to hit later that night on Jan. 4.
When it rains, the RV’s roof leaks and many of the family’s belongings are at risk of getting wet or destroyed, Elisa said. The Voice agreed to only use Elisa’s first name for this story.
“Every time it rains, we get wet,” Elisa said in Spanish as her son worked to secure their tarp, which was too small to cover the RV’s roof.
“It comes through the side of the kitchen and the bathroom,” Elisa said. “The clothes get wet,” and with each rain storm, the roof gets weaker, she added.
The rain was light while Elisa and her son tried to secure the tarp, but intermittent gusts of wind puffed up the tarp like a sail, making it challenging to keep in place.
Other unhoused people who typically sleep on the streets must find somewhere dry to wait out the storm. Homeless resident David Strang, who has been unhoused in Mountain View for the last nearly two decades, said he’s got it down to an art form.
“As far as the rain’s concerned, I’m fine,” Strang said. “A lot of people have a lot of trouble with it because they don’t know how to get plastic bags.”
Strang was sheltering from the rain near the Mountain View Civic Center in the afternoon on Jan. 5, the day after the rainstorm claimed its first damages in Mountain View, including downed power lines and flooded streets. Most of Strang's belongings were carefully wrapped in black trash bags to protect them from getting wet.
“Mountain View has a lot of good amenities, though,” Strang said. “They’ve got CSA, they’ve got Hope’s Corner. I don’t really deal with them much, just because I’m picky, but they help a lot of people.”
Dave Arnone, a Mountain View resident and homeless advocate who frequently distributes meals to unhoused residents, said the situation is nothing new.
“The homeless get cold and wet every year,” he said. “In a lot of ways, this is business as usual for homeless folks in the winter.”
While the atmospheric river aimed at California is causing more intense rainstorms than recent years, Arnone said the weather simply makes the existing, year-round issues that unhoused people face more apparent: lack of shelter space, hunger, transportation barriers and unsafe living conditions.
Kathryn Kaminski with the Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Housing said the county operates cold weather shelters seasonally, including the Mountain View Trinity United Methodist shelter located on the corner of Hope and Mercy streets, which is open to single women and families. There’s also a county-operated cold weather shelter in Gilroy. Kaminski said the shelters have been "fairly full" every day since the poor weather started.
“During weather periods where the weather is particularly dangerous, we also work with shelters to add additional inclement weather beds, which usually means putting beds and cots in lobbies to make sure as many people can get indoors as possible,” Kaminski said.
As someone who sticks to the street, Strang said he's learned over the years how to get through the winter. This year is no different.
"You've got to find the overhangs, you've got to find where the wind isn't," he said. "You have to be into your survival."
Spanish translation by Magali Gauthier.