Florencio Ortiz had lived close to the edge of homelessness even before riot-induced flames leveled the little Central Avenue market where he worked part time sweeping floors.
Without the modest income from the job, he is certain he will not be able to afford to keep the room he has been renting from a family in East Los Angeles. So he is preparing for his usual last resort: a beat-up Ford van that has served as home many times before.
"I don't have any money and pretty soon I won't have anywhere to go," said Ortiz, as he pumped $3 worth of gasoline at one of the few stations open on Central Avenue.
City officials, still reeling from the physical and human destruction wrought by this century's worst urban riots, are preparing for thousands of Florencio Ortizes in the coming months: out-of-work riot victims who can no longer afford to pay rent or a mortgage and have nowhere to go except the city's overburdened shelters or its streets.
Economic analysts estimate that as many as 10,000 jobs might be permanently lost as a result of damage that forced the closure of hundreds of stores and businesses. Many of the affected employees were already living on the margin, stuck in service-oriented jobs that paid little more than the minimum wage and offered scant hope for advancement.
Authorities say that thousands are likely to be left out of rebuilding and recovery programs and are in jeopardy of falling through the social welfare net.
"We are going to see a massive increase (in homelessness) from the ranks of people who had jobs, but with one foot in the lower middle class and another on a banana peel," said Gene Boutilier, chairman of the countywide Coalition for the Homeless. "Then they have to go without a couple of paychecks and at that point, in a few months, I think we are going to have a major crisis."
City officials say they too are concerned and have begun developing a plan to deal with an expected deluge of new homeless people.
Existing city homeless shelters are being canvassed to determine the number of available beds and what kinds of extra support shelter operators might need.
There are also contingency plans to open city recreational centers, and, if need be, some schools to accommodate residents who became homeless as a result of the riots, said Patricia Huff, coordinator of homeless projects for the city.
"We think there will have to be new beds found as a matter of necessity," Huff said. But Huff said there is no way of determining how many people may be affected or how many new beds might be needed.
It is people like Mauricio Arenivar and his family who are likely to swell the ranks. Arenivar lost his job when the Koreatown Numero Uno pizzeria where he had been employed for seven years went up in flames last Thursday. He is not hopeful that the owner will be able to rebuild the restaurant anytime soon, if at all. With only about $200 in savings, he is not sure what fate awaits his family.
"I worked my way up from dishwasher to assistant manager and now it's all gone," the El Salvador native said as he waited to file for unemployment at the state Employment Development office at 15th Street and Broadway.
Arenivar pays $625 a month for a one-bedroom apartment near Koreatown, where he lives with his wife and three children. He will be able to pay next month's rent, but after that the family might face real hardship, he said.
"I've been out looking for any kind of work and no one is hiring," he said. "We have no relatives in this country. If I can't find anything and we lose our house, what will we do?"
Authorities on homelessness estimate that on any given night, as many as 59,000 people are in need of shelter countywide.
However, only about 8,500 shelter beds are available in the city to meet the need.
The American Red Cross is operating two temporary emergency shelters--at Dorsey and Belmont high schools--for about 200 riot victims whose homes were burned. Many of them also lost jobs and are at risk of becoming permanently homeless, spokeswoman Carol Tokarczyk said.
"We are trying to determine what their resources are and provide them with a number of services such as rental assistance and referrals to unemployment," Tokarczyk said.
"But they and others are definitely at risk."
For Los Angeles, a city that consistently has among the highest numbers of homeless in the nation, the prospect of even more poses a daunting challenge.
County social services, from shelters and food banks to welfare, are already taxed nearly to the limit, officials say.
"We cannot take more people living on the streets, in abandoned buildings, in cars, more people in despair," said Ruth Schwartz, director of the city's Shelter Partnership. "It will all make our work 100 times more difficult. We will have to have some relief."
Meeting the needs of residents made homeless by the riots will be a key function of rebuilding efforts, said Wendy Greuel, who specializes in social service issues as an assistant to Mayor Tom Bradley,
Greuel said city officials are preparing to meet with representatives of the departments of Labor, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development and Agriculture, among other federal agencies, to develop housing and jobs programs for riot victims who are at risk of becoming homeless.
Advocates for the homeless fear that those who were homeless before the riots might get short shrift.
They say there is a risk for increased community tension if distinctions are made between riot victims and those who were homeless before the riots.
"Those artificial distinctions were made after the Loma Prieta earthquake and it decreased hope and help in some cruel ways," Boutilier said. "We run the risk of that happening here."
Said Schwartz: "We have to rebuild, but we've also got to know what we're taking (resources) away from. We have to do it with forethought and not with a knee-jerk reaction."