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The Valley

Shelters to Open Under Tighter Security

November 29, 2001|KARIMA A. HAYNES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With the chill of winter bearing down on Southern California, emergency shelter operators are preparing for homeless people seeking a place to come in from the cold.

But this year, emergency shelters operating in National Guard armories in Los Angeles and Orange counties will enforce tighter security measures, requiring homeless people to show photo identification (those without will be issued an ID) and to allow their belongings to be searched nightly, officials said.

The measures are necessary to ensure the safety of civilians and members of the military who use the armory in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, officials said.

The 19 cold-weather shelters with more than 2,000 beds expected to operate in Los Angeles County this winter will no longer be activated by severe weather. Instead, after the shelters officially open Saturday, they will remain open nightly through March 15.

The Glendale Armory Shelter won't open until Sunday because the National Guard needs the facility until then for drills, said Stacy Rowe, Glendale's community development supervisor.

On occasions when the armory is closed, people can find shelter at the Glendale YMCA, Salvation Army or area churches, Rowe said.

Anticipating tightened security at the Glendale facility this year, Rowe said advocates for the homeless encouraged people to apply for photo identification and to expect weapon searches.

"The homeless population doesn't think it's unreasonable to be searched entering a military facility during times like these," she said.

This year, for the first time, all county shelters will offer on-site mental and physical health care and permanent housing assistance.

County officials said they decided to keep the shelters open continuously to alleviate homeless people's worries over whether they had a bed for the night.

"We wanted to make sure people had a place to sleep regardless of weather conditions," said Scott Milbourn, the county's emergency shelter program coordinator.

In the past, facilities opened from mid-November through mid-December, depending on the weather.

The National Weather Service had to forecast at least a 50% chance of rain or overnight temperatures below 40 degrees before shelters could open.

This year, county shelter providers will staff each facility with case managers to help the homeless find permanent housing, Milbourn said. And homeless people will have access to mobile medical and mental health services.

The county's efforts to improve the health, safety and housing situations of homeless people are good ones, said Frank Tamborello of the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness, a nonprofit organization based in downtown Los Angeles.

"Those are changes we wanted for a long time and we are glad to see them," he said. "It's about time."

Freezing overnight temperatures prompted the Lancaster Community Shelter to open its doors Nov. 12, shelter officials said.

Huddled against the cold and wind, about 30 men and women a night have sought a meal, a shower and one of the 45 available cots at the shelter in the High Desert community about 50 miles north of Los Angeles.

In Orange County, the Fullerton and Santa Ana armories will open Saturday, providing 250 beds for homeless people who will be required to present picture identification and submit to searches.

"It's not something that's punitive," said Karen Roper, Orange County's homeless services coordinator. "We want them to know they have a safe place, a warm bed, a hot meal, a shower and a whole array of services."

On nights that armories will be closed, homeless people can find beds at Good Samaritan Seventh-day Adventist Church in Westminster and the First United Methodist Church in Costa Mesa.

Advocates for the homeless in Ventura County said they are bracing for an increase in the number of families with children and in the working poor searching for a place to sleep.

Lutheran Social Services in Thousands Oaks on Saturday will open its seven, 40-bed shelters nightly through March 31, area director J.R. Jones said.

"People are right on the fringe this year," he said. "They are barely making it. It comes down to, do they eat or pay rent, and sometimes they don't even have that choice."

Cold weather and increased need prompted officials at Samaritan Center in Simi Valley to open Nov. 1 instead of in early December as in past years. On any given night, 35 to 45 people line up at the homeless shelters operated by several Simi Valley churches. For the third straight year, Ventura County will provide shelter for the homeless in west county communities at the National Guard Armory in Oxnard.

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