LOS ANGELES (CNS) - With rain and cold temperatures moving into Southern California today and lasting through the Thanksgiving holiday, Los Angeles city and county officials opened emergency 24-hour winter shelters ahead of schedule.
Both Winter Shelter Programs, which offer protection for homeless people during inclement weather, had been scheduled to begin Sunday.
The seven-day National Weather Service forecast shows some areas of Los Angeles, including the San Fernando Valley, could experience consecutive days of temperatures below 50 degrees and nighttime lows below 40 degrees.
More than 500 new emergency shelter beds will open beginning at 10 a.m., Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Tuesday night.
The shelters will be located at various city Recreation and Parks facilities and one church with Los Angeles County funding services, Garcetti said.
Funding for the services is being provided by Los Angeles County. City Recreation and Parks staff will be present to support the operation alongside outreach and homeless service professionals, Garcetti said.
A Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority spokesman said that between Tuesday and Friday another 100 temporary beds will be opened at Athens Park and 100 beds that LAHSA would temporarily add to the year-round shelters it operates. Those beds are expected to be available only during the upcoming storm, for three days at most.
Countywide, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to start LAHSA's Winter Shelter program early. Seven emergency shelters are included. Some opened Tuesday and all facilities would be open by Friday.
It was not immediately clear which shelters would open when, but the facilities expected to open early were a Salvation Army shelter in Hollywood, the Weingart Center, the Bryant Temple AME near Vermont Square and four Home at Last sites in Los Angeles. The seven sites collectively have 271 beds and will remain open through March 31.
LAHSA's overall Winter Shelter Program, which will begin Sunday, has a total of 1,232 beds at 16 locations. The winter shelters are normally open nightly from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m., but they can remain open round-the-clock during severe weather conditions.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas recommended moving up the Sunday opening date for as many shelters as possible.
Heidi Marston, chief program officer for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and county CEO Sachi Hamai said county and LAHSA staffers were looking at all options as they try to find places to temporarily house homeless individuals, including sites opened as cooling centers during extreme summer weather, libraries and school auditoriums.
Supervisor Janice Hahn said everyone needs to pitch in to help the homeless when severe weather strikes.
“People aren't looking at it like a crisis and a disaster,” Hahn said. When it starts pouring rain, “no one should feel good that 60,000 people are sleeping outside ... we have to change our callousness and our numbness about driving past encampment after encampment.”
The American Red Cross Los Angeles Region agrees this “is an emergency situation and is helping its community partner LAHSA during this time of need to support the service they provide,” regional director of communications Marium F. Mohiuddin told City News Service.
The Red Cross support includes training Los Angeles and Los Angeles County shelter staff, providing supplies such as extra cots and blankets and helping to identify partners that can help supply food and meals at the emergency shelters, Mohiuddin said.