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Heavy Rain Adds to Everyday Troubles of Life on Streets

February 16, 1992|KEN ELLINGWOOD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

John Phillips guided a Trader Joe's shopping cart around the spreading puddles at West Hollywood's Plummer Park and set out to salvage what was left of his workday.

It was already mid-afternoon and there was no way he'd fill the cart with the cans and bottles that can bring $10 or so on a good day.

This was not a good day. This was a lousy day, a lousy week, for Phillips and the uncountable hundreds of other Westside homeless people who added the week's heavy, bone-soaking rains to the usual list of troubles accompanying life on the streets.

With a neatly packed duffel and a few crushed plastic bottles in his cart, Phillips watched most of Wednesday pass from beneath a picnic area canopy at the park. Officials close church shelter in Venice for health and safety reasons. "When it's raining, I just have to stop," he said.

Shelters all over the Westside fill up quickly even on the driest nights. The rain just increased the numbers that were turned away. A wintertime shelter in the First United Methodist Church of Hollywood on Franklin Avenue was turning away 15 to 20 people a night last week after its 150 beds filled up.

People found haven where they could. Some homeless people, such as 22-year-old Torry Keith, slipped into abandoned buildings to sleep. Others hunkered down outside, under hooded entrance ways at the Poinsettia Recreation Area just outside West Hollywood or swaddled in garbage bags under the pagodas that line Venice Beach.

But many of the homeless sounded a note of business as usual, however dreary.

"I've been out on the streets for 20 years--this little rain is nothing," said 39-year-old Daniel Reamy, who spent the drenched days under Venice store awnings and doorways and nights in a carport. "I used to go to the shelters but I don't anymore. They remind me of jail and it's not always easy to get into one."

Leland Leonard, layered in soaked jackets and sweaters under a Venice Beach storefront, was bearing up. "I'm real cold, real wet," he said. "But it isn't the worst I've been through."

Even those who did manage to get a bed in one of the area shelters were forced to deal with the wet weather. "They kick you out at five in the morning and it's raining even harder," said a man who gave his name as Sam.

At Teen Canteen, a social service center for young people in Hollywood, one volunteer understood what Sam meant. "We have a roomful of very wet kids here. We have to close at 3:30 and they have to go back out on the streets. It's horrible," said volunteer Betsy Mazursky.

Some on the street said they had tried to cope with the wet by dropping precious quarters into automated dryers or simply airing clothes out overnight. At day shelters, such as the St. Joseph Center in Venice, dripping-wet people were given clothes or allowed to dry off.

The deluge couldn't have come at a worse time for the homeless who had used two Westside shelters. Bible Tabernacle shelter in Venice--believed to be the largest family shelter in Los Angeles--was shut down by county health officials last month after health problems and overcrowding were discovered. And in December, West Hollywood's shelter on La Brea Avenue had to lay off its staff and close to all but a handful of long-term residents when it ran out of money.

The West Hollywood shelter is scheduled to reopen Monday with a slimmed-down staff and expanded plans for up to 60 beds and more services for walk-in homeless people, according to Jackie Mendelson, the interim executive director.

The closing of the West Hollywood shelter made it especially confusing for those trying to lend a hand to those in need. Callers received only a recorded message saying the facility was open at "irregular hours for the next 30 days" and offering to accept a message.

Ruth Egger, a recreation director at the West Hollywood Senior Center in Plummer Park, complained Wednesday that it had taken four calls to the shelter and other agencies before she was able to steer a drenched homeless man to help. By late afternoon, he had two garbage bags of donated clothes and bedding and the address for the Los Angeles Free Clinic on Beverly Boulevard, a pickup point for one of Los Angeles's cold-weather shelters at the First United Methodist Church of Hollywood.

The cold-weather shelters had been scheduled to close for the season last Thursday, but would remain open if forecasts predicted uncomfortable conditions outdoors because of cold and rain, said manager Floyd Frazier.

Reporters Jeff Kramer and Petula Dvorak contributed to this story.

* SHELTER CLOSED J7

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