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Central Los Angeles : Homeless Shelter Opens Downtown

A new winter shelter for the homeless opened this week in Downtown Los Angeles to provide private rooms for people who otherwise would be living on the streets.

The shelter, located in the Panama Hotel at 403 E. 5th St., can house and feed up to 100 people--90 men and 10 women--according to county officials.

Setting it apart from typical shelters where the homeless sleep on cots in large rooms, the Panama Hotel offers single-occupancy rooms, said Andy Raubeson, the executive director of SRO Hotel Corp., which manages hotels that provide government-subsidized housing for homeless and low-income people.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the county agency that is funding the Panama program, will make rooms at the hotel available for people with special needs, such as those with physical and mental disabilities and the elderly, Raubeson said.

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Participants in the Panama Hotel shelter program are free to stay the whole winter if they are willing to comply with the rules--one of which is to save half of whatever income or benefits they may receive.

“We provide three meals and housing and that should give some opportunity to save money so they can stabilize themselves after the winter,” Raubeson said. The social service workers at the hotel also provide health care and help participants receive benefits to which they are entitled.

Although the Panama Hotel will probably fill up quickly, Raubeson said, there is moderate turnover. To apply to the program, homeless people may walk in or contact the Downtown Women’s Center, the city’s Homeless Outreach Program or the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Los Angeles Homeless Services also runs about 20 other winter shelters in the county, said Marlene Singer, manager of programs and volunteers. Most of the shelters are guaranteed to be open every day between Dec. 14 and Feb. 29, Singer said, adding that before Dec. 14 and during the month of March they are open only if there is at least a 50% chance of rain or the nighttime temperature drops below 40 degrees.

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