January 19 -- It's ten to nine, and the West L.A. cold weather
shelter has just hit capacity when another busload of homeless
people pulls up.
"We don't have room," says Marcus Jones, the sleep-deprived
24-year-old supervisor who ensures 150 people get a hot meal and
cot at the Armory on cold and rainy nights.
"The bad news is the other shelters are full too."
|The homeless settle in at
the West LA cold-weather shelter. (Photos by Olin Ericksen)
As a usually temperate Central and Southern California weathers
one of its longest cold streaks in years, much of the recent media
attention has focused on farmers who may lose millions of dollars
in citrus and avocado crops eviscerated by the freeze.
But there are other victims the ice-forming temperatures may
be threatening: many of the estimated 82,000 homeless who live
in Los Angeles County, and perhaps, the system of 1,800 cold-weather
beds that homeless experts say is operating at 90 to 95 percent
"We have definitely seen a spike in the cold weather shelters
used," said , the executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless
Services Authority (LAHSA), the agency coordinating the programs.
"It's been incredibly cold… and it would be dangerous
to be outside right now."
As for the Westside -- which has nearly 300 cold weather beds
at two shelters in Culver City and West Los Angeles -- people
are coming out of the cold in record numbers, including many from
Santa Monica, homeless officials said.
"This is the most people I've ever seen seeking shelter
in all my time here," said Henry Wilson, who for three years
has been a program director for Volunteers of America (VOA), which
runs the Westside shelters.
Scores of homeless stood outside the OPCC center at Seventh Street
and Colorado Avenue Tuesday waiting for a VOA -chartered school
bus to cart them to a Westside shelter.
"This is the coldest I've seen it in years," said Robert,
a homeless man who was visibly shivering as he waited for a ride.
While there was enough room within the 17 countywide shelters
Tuesday night for everyone who sought a bed, more than a dozen
homeless were initially turned away from the two Westside shelters
managed by VOA, homeless officials said. And they was no room
for them at the Glendale shelter used if the Culver City and West
LA facilities are full.
"I've never heard of that happening before," Isaacs
Those turned away were given a bed elsewhere in the county, complying
with a policy that forbids shelters from turning anyone away,
"They are definitely not being left outside," Isaacs
|The homeless board a bus
outside the OPCC Center in Santa Monica.
Yet the incident – nearly five days after a cold weather
advisory was issued by LAHSA – is evidence that the Arctic
air that dropped snow on Malibu this week is testing the county’s
cold-weather shelter system, which operates between December 1
and March 1.
Run by VOA and other non-profits and funded by LAHSA, the system
is expected to have to weather the test into next week, with temperatures
expected to continue to drop into the low forties each night through
"There are times when, because we live in this area, the
weather is not that big a deal, so these cold weather shelters
have been very important when this weather hits every few years,"
In addition to the 1,800 cold-weather shelter beds, there are
another 23,300 shelter beds countywide. Of those, 9,500 are transitional
shelter beds, 8,500 are permanent shelter beds and 5,300 are emergency
shelter beds, according to Dave Martel, LAHSA’s contract
"We're significantly short of shelter beds, considering
that nearly 82,000 people are estimated to be on the streets each
night," he said.
Some of the homeless who were not in shelters this week may still
have slept with a roof over their heads, Isaacs said.
"A percentage are in hospitals and jails, and some people
are in spaces unfit for human habitation, such as garages,"
she said. "That's one of the problems with counting homeless
While the county spends nearly $3.5 million a year to run the
cold weather shelters, the price is relatively cheap, at just
$18 dollars per cot per night. It also pays for supervision, use
of the facility, showers and a meal, Martel said.
The City of Los Angeles is shelling out money to add another
200 beds by February 1, Martel said.
But before the beds go online, another cold front is expected
to pass through Southern California.
"We are getting ready for another night," said VOA
program director Wilson.
Bus service to cold weather shelters in Culver City and West
L.A. begin in Santa Monica at 5:30 p.m. outside of the OPCC center
on Seventh Street and Colorado Avenue. For more information call
LAHSA at 1-800-548-6047.