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As storms move in, L.A. to open some homeless shelters ahead of schedule

L.A. officials are opening winter shelters early as storms hit the region. Above, a homeless man last winter in downtown Los Angeles.
L.A. officials are opening winter shelters early as storms hit the region. Above, a homeless man last winter in downtown Los Angeles.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles government officials declared Tuesday that they would open up some emergency shelters ahead of schedule and rapidly set up new ones as incoming storms threaten to drench homeless people this week.

The newly announced efforts will provide hundreds of additional beds for people trying to escape the cold and wet weather in coming days.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which was not slated to launch its winter shelter program until December, announced Tuesday morning that it would open seven of its sites in the next few days, providing 271 beds. None were open during the last round of storms that soaked the city, leaving homeless people chilled and wet on the streets.

With storms expected again in the coming days, city, county and homeless authority officials “saw it was necessary to open these shelters immediately to help as many of our most vulnerable residents as possible,” Peter Lynn, the agency’s executive director, said in a statement.

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In addition to opening up some winter shelters early, the agency said it would make an additional 100 emergency beds available through its “interim housing portfolio” on Wednesday and Thursday nights this week. A spokesman later said LAHSA would offer up an additional 100 beds at Athens Park, bringing its total to 471.

On the heels of the Tuesday morning announcement, the Los Angeles City Council voted to direct city agencies to open up additional emergency shelters in the coming days, possibly using city facilities such as recreation centers. Councilman Mike Bonin said he wanted them to spring into action the same way that they set up evacuation centers during wildfires or other natural disasters.

As the rains descend on Los Angeles, “it’s going to be wet. It’s going to be cold. And people will die as a result,” Bonin said, urging council members Tuesday to back the emergency motion from him and Councilman Paul Krekorian.

“It’s an embarrassment that anybody dies on the streets of Los Angeles,” Bonin added in an interview after the vote, citing statistics that three homeless people die every day on L.A. streets. “It’s even more scandalous if it happens on Thanksgiving.”

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Late Tuesday, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the city was setting up more than 500 additional beds at facilities, including city recreation centers and a community church, which will be open starting Wednesday morning for people in need.

By Wednesday morning, that number had reached nearly 700 at six facilities. A Garcetti aide said the shelters will stay open a few days or until the rain ends.

The county will fund services at the shelters, according to the mayor, and Recreation and Parks employees will staff them alongside outreach and homeless service professionals.

“The weather we’re expecting this week could be life-threatening for our homeless neighbors,” Garcetti said in a written statement. “There’s no time to waste — we have to do everything in our power to bring people inside now.”

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors chimed in with the calls for action at its Tuesday meeting, unanimously passing a motion directing the homeless services authority to “expedite the immediate launch of the winter shelter program.” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas suggested they also explore using schools that were closed for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Local activists who assist homeless people have also been trying to gather tarps, tents and blankets for people enduring the rain on the street. The United Way of Greater Los Angeles said it was offering up “mini grants” for community groups gathering such donations.

Chris Ko, its managing director of homelessness and strategic initiatives, said such donations were crucial in light of the shortage of shelter space, as well as the fact that some people will not go to shelters.

“It’s not that they don’t want to come inside, but they don’t want to [abandon] their most important belongings” in order to go inside, Ko said.

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Venice homeless activist David Busch, who is part of the Venice Equity Alliance, said he was upset that police were telling people to take down their tents on a recent morning despite chilly temperatures. Doing so, Busch argued, would leave people more vulnerable to health problems.

Far more people live on Los Angeles streets than existing shelters could possibly accommodate: The latest count tallied more than 44,000 homeless people who lack shelter across Los Angeles County, including more than 27,000 in the city of L.A.

More beds will be made available in coming weeks. In December, the homeless services authority will open more winter shelters, bringing the total number of additional beds through the program to 1,232, according to the agency. The winter shelter program, which runs until the end of March, is funded by the city and county of Los Angeles and is operated by nonprofits that contract with the homeless authority.

Times staff writer Doug Smith contributed to this report.


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