SANTA ANA — On the morning after Wednesday's flooding rains, Tim Ray's worries were basic--how to warm his cold feet.
"I can still wring out my shoes," said Ray, a 26-year-old homeless man in Santa Ana, as he flicked at his sodden suede sneakers. "I've got a couple of quarters. I'll probably end up going down (to a coin laundry) and drying some of my stuff out."
Those who sleep on the streets live closest to the weather and, as usual, they were most stricken by it.
For Orange County's homeless, the record-setting downpour could not have come at a worse time. Two local armories that double as nighttime shelters for about 300 people were off-limits because of five days of National Guard exercises, forcing homeless agencies to scramble to find other sites as the rain fell. Churches in Costa Mesa and Westminster opened their doors to more than 200 homeless people. Other churches in Garden Grove and Anaheim will be providing room to sleep through the weekend, when more rain is expected.
"A lot of people are getting colds. I really feel bad for them," said Jim Miller, executive director of the group Shelter for the Homeless, which runs the armory shelters and found churches to house people all week.
Miller said that most of the estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people in Orange County defined as homeless do not actually sleep on the street. Though technically without homes, many stay temporarily in motels or move in with friends and relatives, he said. He estimated the number of people who end up on the street with no roof over their heads at about 1,500.
On Thursday morning, a group of about 10 homeless people who gathered under a pagoda at the Civic Center in Santa Ana were wringing out jackets and socks and gazing up at the emerging sunshine as if toward some long-awaited miracle. Duffel bags stuffed with soaked gear lined the benches and soggy boots were left out to dry--along with wet sleeping bags, mats and the donated silver tarps used as ponchos and nicknamed "spacesuits."
Several of the people at the pagoda had caught a bus in the rain to one of the makeshift church shelters in Costa Mesa, where they were fed hot turkey soup and pastries and slept on cots that were trucked in by Shelter for the Homeless.
"After everybody dried out, man, everybody went to sleep. Man, they went out," said James Donaldson, a 28-year-old man who said he has been homeless for the past year.
That afternoon, the Costa Mesa-based Share Our Selves had heated up pans of donated lasagna left over from a Rose Bowl catering company, and staffers handed out 50 garbage bags for use as emergency raincoats.
"The guys were coming in here just soaked," said Karen McGlinn, executive director of Share Our Selves. "I don't know how they handled it last night."
Those who did not make it indoors fashioned tents to fend off the pounding rain, changed clothes often and even dried each other's clothes and shoes at self-service laundries. One Laundromat in Santa Ana stayed open an hour later than normal to accommodate the extra business and gave out dry clothes.
Richard Stahl, 44, was still wearing dry clothes lent to him by another homeless man after Stahl got drenched walking to a store.
The friend who lent the clothes waved off Stahl's effusive thanks.
"It's called survival," said the man, who identified himself only as Tony. "You don't want people to get sick so you don't get sick. None of us can afford to go to the doctor. We're all homeless. We've got to help each other."
Among some homeless people, daily survival on the street also has produced a shrugging nonchalance toward conditions that send most people into a panic.
"When everyone was scurrying around in the rain yesterday, the homeless were among the least helpless," said a homeless man who identified himself only as Dad. "We deal with weather all the time."