As shelters for the homeless begin opening their doors for the winter this weekend, several operators said they expect full houses again this year.
"I'm sure we're going to fill up immediately," said Denise Burton, director of the First Step Shelter in South Los Angeles, which offers 80 beds.
Like many shelters officially scheduled to open Sunday, First Step will open ahead of schedule today because of the rain.
Advocates for the homeless say they expect the need for refuge to match or exceed last winter's, as the effects of the Sept. 11 tragedy continue to be felt on the economy.
The need for homeless services always increases with the arrival of cold weather, but this year it appears to be heightened by the poor job market, said Ken Craft, director of the nonprofit San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission in North Hollywood.
"I've spoken with so many people on the streets who maybe were working at the airport or in the hotel industry and who have lost their jobs," he said. "These are not the chronic homeless, what some might call the hard-core homeless. These are the new homeless. They've been evicted, they lost their homes, they're living in their cars, and they don't want to be there."
In the San Fernando Valley, two cold-weather shelters will open Sunday to provide hot meals and a place to sleep on winter nights.
A network of government-funded winter shelters in Los Angeles County will be set up nightly from Sylmar to Culver City and remain open until spring.
"We were at capacity most of the time last year," said Joan Thirkettle, director of community services for the Glendale YMCA, which operates a shelter. "I think the demand will be very similar to last year."
At some shelters, in addition to meals and cots, visitors will be offered assistance to get back on their feet. "We try to remove them from the streets by offering referrals for counseling, health care, housing and employment," Thirkettle said.
Several studies have found that Los Angeles County has among the highest numbers of homeless people, with at least 25,000, according to the Institute for the Study of Homelessness and Poverty.
Information on the winter shelter program, including pickup locations, may be obtained at (800) 548-6047.