For Edythe Franklin, a slight woman who carries a big coat, tonight's opening of Los Angeles County's emergency winter shelter program for the homeless cannot come soon enough.
Franklin has spent the last few nights walking the streets of skid row in downtown Los Angeles to keep warm, her only shelter the black wool coat, made in Bulgaria, she obtained from a church handout.
"The night before, I sat down on the sidewalk at about 4 a.m. until my feet started freezing and then I started walking again," said Franklin, 38, who wears thin blue canvas shoes. "I just want to be inside somewhere. I'm tired, mentally exhausted."
Eleven emergency shelters from Pomona to West Los Angeles are set to open tonight. Bitterly cold temperatures are again forecast in some areas, and county officials expect the facilities to fill up quickly with people such as Franklin, seeking a cot, a warm blanket and a hot meal.
The federally funded winter shelter program, which runs from Dec. 1 through March 15, will add about 1,200 beds to the county's network of emergency shelters operated by charitable groups and churches. Four of the shelters will operate in National Guard Armories.
Shelters are open from 6 p.m. until 7 a.m. daily and, in addition to meals and a bed, provide access to mental health and substance abuse counseling, housing assistance, job support, medical care and other services.
For the first time this year, 16 emergency beds are being set aside for youth at Covenant House in Hollywood, which is a haven for homeless teens.
"In Hollywood, we're talking about an extremely vulnerable population, and we hope that besides the winter shelter this year, other youth providers will step forward with more emergency housing," said Mitchell Netburn, executive director of the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority.
The authority, a city-county agency that administers shelter programs, already has seven other emergency shelters that operate year-round with about 800 beds. The authority operates a toll-free hotline, (800) 548-6047, with information on winter shelters.
An estimated 3,000 youths sleep on the streets, in cars or in abandoned buildings in Hollywood, and a network of social services agencies in the area is devoted to helping runaways.
Many of the young people who are expected to use the emergency winter beds are those who resist seeking help that requires them to join a program or to look for work, said Bill Wilson, associate executive director at Covenant House.
"Some of these harder-core youth are ambivalent about whether they want to leave the streets, but they do want to get out of the cold, and my guess is we'll be seeing more of those kinds," Wilson said.
"Hopefully, it will give us an opportunity to engage them. We'll have our health clinic, mental health therapists on site and available."
At least two winter shelters that were expected to open have been delayed because of difficulties in obtaining sites. County officials said both proposed shelters have run into community opposition.
In Long Beach, operators are still negotiating for a center that would have 200 beds.
In Santa Clarita, city officials decided to cancel a winter shelter program that had operated for several years and instead awarded money to a nonprofit group to transport homeless people to shelters in the San Fernando Valley and downtown Los Angeles.
The Homeless Services Authority commission will meet later this week to decide whether to open the Sylmar Armory, which can hold 125 beds, to accommodate Santa Clarita's homeless.
A winter shelter with 60 beds in Lancaster, operated by Catholic Charities, opened early last month when temperatures began dropping in the Antelope Valley, said shelter manager Eric Wilhite.
"It's cold and we're feeling the brunt of it," Wilhite said. "When it gets exceptionally cold like this, we would hate to see tragedy happen. One man froze to death about eight years ago."
Rachael Hannon, 40, said she stayed in an abandoned apartment building in Lancaster on Monday night, when temperatures dipped into the 20s.
She is hoping to get a shelter bed tonight. "Your whole day is spent trying to stay warm," said Hannon, who was shivering in a weed-strewn empty parking lot across from the shelter. "At night, your breath from your body keeps you warm -- if you have something to cover you."