Charles Griffin expected to be left out in the cold when the first winter chill descended on Skid Row. Instead, he was safely ensconced in a cozy downtown emergency shelter Monday.
"This is a blessing," said Griffin, a 37-year-old construction worker who has been homeless for two weeks. "If I wasn't here, I would literally be freezing in the street."
Griffin was among hundreds of homeless people who benefited from new emergency shelter programs offered this week by Los Angeles city and county agencies. Officials said the cold weather plans, which received their first test of the year, generally proved successful.
"Everyone who wanted to be taken care of was," Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Mike Gage said. "Most of the people went to shelters during the early part of the night."
The number of people seeking shelter apparently rose as the temperatures dropped into the low 40s over the weekend. Officials reported that most of the county's 5,000 shelter beds were occupied by Sunday, and social workers said telephones at various hot lines were ringing off the hook as homeless people throughout the area suffered through the coldest nights of the season.
Under a new cold weather plan, city officials provided 147 emergency hotel vouchers to various social service agencies. The city also opened emergency shelters in Venice and the San Fernando Valley and provided four buses for transportation.
Gage said the initial turnout at the Venice emergency shelters was low--there were only nine people there Sunday, but he expected the numbers to rise as more homeless people learned of the "warming centers."
By 9 p.m. Monday, 10 people were in the Venice shelter and another 40 were lodged in the Valley shelter at the Salvation Army Center in Van Nuys. Those in the latter shelter included five families, one with eight children.
County officials also distributed emergency shelter vouchers over the weekend. Donna Dunn, the county's homeless service coordinator, could not give a count on the number of vouchers provided but said the emergency program for the homeless appeared to work.
There were no reported deaths or injuries from the cold weather, according to Los Angeles police. Capt. Rick Batson said the number of people on the streets was much smaller than in previous winters, when officials frantically searched for shelters to house them. He and others noted that the number of shelters in the county has doubled in the past two years.
"We haven't had any indications of problems," Batson said Monday. "The city has put together programs to accommodate those in need, and we were prepared for them this time."
At the Weingart Center in downtown Los Angeles, all 600 beds were taken.
"We have been bombarded with requests from people walking in off the street," the center's Maxene Johnston said.
The Los Angeles and Midnight missions, which hold about 100 people each, were also filled.
"There is a really high demand for space," said the Rev. Mark Holsinger of the Los Angeles Mission. "The cold weather always brings more guys in. We also get more requests for clothing."
One of the few exceptions was in Venice, where the hearty beachfront homeless population reportedly refused to abandon their encampments on the sand. Rick Ruiz, a spokesman for Venice-area Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, said more than 100 people braved the night air in their tents.
"A few people on the beach are even sleeping out in the open," Ruiz said. "So those in the tents are fairly well off."