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Bad Forecasts Deny Shelter to Homeless : Social services: County officials must predict early in the morning if the weather that night will be cold or rainy enough to open armories as havens.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ever since Angel Duran was kicked out of his apartment in Oxnard last week for failing to pay the rent, he has slept on a worn mattress beneath a large tree in a litter-strewn lot on 7th Street.

The unemployed migrant worker from Mexico said he was somewhat comfortable until the temperature dipped below 50 degrees and it started raining early Wednesday.

“It got a bit cold and I got wet,” said Duran, 23. He said his only protection from the elements was a thin sweater and a tattered sheet of plastic.

A statewide program designed to shelter the homeless in National Guard armories when the weather gets nasty was supposed to keep Duran and others such as him from spending a cold and wet night on the streets.

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But because county officials did not foresee the weather turning ugly, the National Guard Armory in Oxnard remained closed.

The episode is an example of how the state winter shelter program sometimes fails.

For the state to open armory doors, temperatures must drop to 40 degrees or below, or less than 50 degrees with a 50% chance of rain.

To allow social service volunteers time to prepare cots and food, county officials must predict early in the day if the weather will meet the state criteria that evening.

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Sometimes the predictions are wrong.

Nancy Steinhelper, deputy director of the Ventura County Adult Protective Services Department, analyzed forecasts early Tuesday morning and predicted that the weather would not meet the state criteria to open the Oxnard armory, which can accommodate cots for up to 100 people.

She was wrong. The temperature dropped to 46 degrees and it started raining.

“It’s not an exact science,” Steinhelper said Wednesday. She said she miscalculated the weather at least twice last year.

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According to social services officials, the failure to accurately predict if the weather will meet the state criteria also has caused armories in Los Angeles and Orange counties to remain closed during nasty weather.

Alan Wilkins, the homeless coordinator for Los Angeles County, said that on a few occasions he too has failed to accurately forecast the weather and has ordered the armory doors to remain closed.

“Unfortunately, we run into that problem from time to time and we haven’t been able to find a way around it,” he said.

Wilkins said he must predict by 10:30 every morning if the weather will meet the state criteria by the time the shelter opens that evening.

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“On occasion the weather did dip below the predicted level,” he said.

Even if the weather takes a turn for the worse, Wilkins said he cannot order the armory open after 10:30 a.m. because it takes time to prepare the facility.

Los Angeles County has five armories that can each shelter about 125 people per night, he said.

Steinhelper said she told Red Cross officials in Ventura County not to open the armory in Oxnard Tuesday because the chance of rain was only 20%.

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However, the temperature dipped just below 50 degrees and about 0.09 of an inch of rain fell at county offices in Ventura. Other cities, such as Fillmore and Santa Paula, received 0.02 of an inch of rain.

Dana Howell, coordinator of the armory shelter program in Ventura County, said he would prefer to open the armory whenever there is a slight chance that the weather may turn foul.

However, he said state officials would permanently close the armory shelter if it were opened to the homeless and the state criteria were not met.

“Unfortunately, we’ve got to play the game according to the state’s rules,” he said.

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David Shaw, operations manager of the Ventura County Rescue Mission, said his shelter reached capacity Tuesday night when it housed 50 homeless people.

“I can’t tell you where the other homeless spent the night,” he said. “Maybe under a tree. Maybe they got wet.”

Fred Judy, founder of the Zoe Christian Center, the only other full-time shelter in Ventura County, said his shelter was filled to capacity.

William Geib, a homeless man who said he spent the night walking the streets of Oxnard, said he tried to escape the rain at the armory but was turned away.

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Geib, who said he usually finds work with traveling carnivals, said he remembers being turned away from the armory during a rainfall last year.

“It’s become a pain in the neck,” he said. “The county’s got so many regulations in the way that they can’t open the shelter when it rains.”


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