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Warmer Nights Mean Less Shelter

January 05, 1988|FREDERICK M. MUIR | FREDERICK M. MUIR, Times Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES — The welcome but probably brief break in the cold and wet weather that has been plaguing Los Angeles' homeless for the past month came with a mixed blessing Monday.

As the temperature climbed into the mid-60s, the city and county closed all of their emergency shelters and restricted their voucher program, sending hundreds of homeless back into the streets.

"However many homeless the emergency shelters housed will now be on the street," said John Dickson, director of development at the Union Rescue Mission.

Like most continuing shelter programs, Dickson said, the mission in downtown Los Angeles is filled to capacity. "There are no alternatives" for the homeless forced to leave the city shelters, he said. "They're just out on the street."

The four city-sponsored facilities had been operating each night since Christmas Eve as temperatures dropped into the 30s. During those 11 days, 2,987 homeless people were housed and an additional 2,157 were given vouchers good for several nights' stay at various area hotels, officials said.

The county's emergency cold weather program began in mid-November in the colder areas such as Lancaster, Palmdale, Pomona and Monrovia. By Dec. 13 the program was operational in all 12 regions of the county and remained in full force until last weekend, serving about 1,000 homeless per day.

But with the improved weather Monday, the program was halted in all areas of the county except Lancaster, officials said.

In Orange County, Santa Ana police reported that the National Guard armory that had accommodated hundred of homeless people during a cold snap in December was closed Monday night because temperatures had not dropped below 40 degrees.

The Los Angeles emergency shelter policy mandates that city recreation centers be opened for the homeless when the temperature is expected to dip below 40 degrees at night, or 50 degrees when rain is forecast.

The county also implements its emergency program when temperatures drop below 40, but does not make any exception for rain.

"It's sort of an insidious policy," said Alice Callaghan of Las Familias del Pueblo, a family service organization serving the Skid Row area. "They are saying, 'If you are in danger of dying, we'll shelter you. But at 42 degrees the chance of dying from the cold is less, so we won't shelter you.'"

Times Staff Writer Rita Pyrillis contributed to this story.

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