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Plans to assist L.A. County homeless during El Niño called 'unconscionable and grossly inadequate'

Los Angeles County and its municipalities’ current plans to accommodate the homeless throughout the El Niño season are “unconscionable and grossly inadequate,” according to a report recently released by the county’s Civil Grand Jury.

About 70% of the region’s estimated 44,000 homeless sleep outdoors on any given night, the report said, and strategies must be put in place to shelter those people during inclement weather.

“Not enough is being accomplished to alleviate the suffering that is certain to increase among those who lack reliable shelter as a massive El Niño weather pattern approaches,” the report said.

The grand jury urged agencies and city leaders to identify public and private buildings that could become temporary shelters and to relax any health, fire and safety code ordinances that might prevent those spaces from serving as refuges. It also recommended that supplies and equipment be stockpiled in case of emergency, and that tents, tarps and ponchos be provided to those who cannot find room at shelters or are refused because of pets.

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“Every step should be taken to assure that unsheltered people remain dry and avoid hypothermia,” the report said.

The grand jury made its recommendations after sending questionnaires to city managers and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority requesting their emergency preparedness plans for extreme weather. Based on responses from the county’s 16 largest cities -- including Los Angeles, Pasadena and Long Beach -- it determined that “just a fraction” of the homeless would find lodging.

The report concluded that the county was inadequately prepared and warned that “preventable outcomes, such as great suffering and possible loss of life in an already unhealthy segment of our population, will likely occur.”

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The Civil Grand Jury is made up of 23 members whose job is to “ensure that the county is being governed honestly and efficiently,” according to the county website. Potential members volunteer or are nominated by a Superior Court judge before the final group is selected randomly by computer.

FULL COVERAGE: El Niño in California >>

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