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Area's homeless can't find shelter

Even the supplemental cold-weather services are filled to capacity on cold and windy nights.

December 23, 2006|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

As the thermometer plunged toward the freezing mark Thursday night, Roland Jones donned seven T-shirts and four sweat shirts and pulled a sleeping bag over his wheelchair. And then, outside near the corner of 6th and San Pedro streets in skid row, his home of the last six years, Jones tried to go to sleep.

Over the last few weeks, Jones and other homeless friends have repeatedly tried to find shelter at some of the county's cold-weather shelters in downtown Los Angeles but he said he has found that "they are all filled."

Recently, said Jesse Krohmer, community development director for the Long Beach Rescue Mission, "winter really kicked in big time." As temperatures have dipped into the 30s and cold winds have blasted the region, many service providers said, they have turned people away because the facilities were full.

"I just don't like to think about it," said Jim Howat, the Volunteers of America's Los Angeles group director of homeless services.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, a joint city-county agency, administers 16 winter shelters in Los Angeles County, adding about 1,800 beds a night to services already offered in the county. Each evening around 5, people can line up at access points around the county to be driven to those shelters, where they can stay until early the next morning.

The shelters, which also offer case management for the people who stay there, run from Dec. 1 to March 15 and are operated by charitable groups and churches.

Volunteers of America operates shelters at National Guard armories in West L.A., Culver City and Glendale with a total of about 450 beds.

"We don't have a choice," Howat said of turning people away. "We have an agreement with the National Guard that we won't operate over capacity, and we just can't. It's just sad."

Two shelters run by People Helping People, one of which is part of the city-county cold-weather program, also have been at capacity, said Darron Moore, program manager of the organization's winter shelter program.

"When we first opened Dec. 1, we'd go downtown and pick people up," Moore said. "Now people have been just walking in. I believe it's from the cold weather."

Some providers of homeless services said they find that the date also makes a difference in the shelter load.

"The first 10 days of the month, they get [public assistance] checks and are OK," said Howat, whose organization also runs a skid row drop-in center. "But by the end of the month, the money is gone, the food stamps are gone and we get many more people."

Friday morning on L.A.'s skid row, shopping carts were loaded high with blankets and sleeping bags. Giveaways, sponsored by local missions, were in full swing. Several homeless people said that during the holiday season, food seemed to be plentiful. But shelter was not.

Rayshawn Evans Walker, a former New Orleans resident, said that when the temperature started dropping, he tried repeatedly to get into local winter shelters.

But he said that in seven days trying, he got in only twice. "They're just so crowded."

Walker, known on skid row as Pork Chop, said he fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. But after his federal assistance ran out, he said, he found himself on the L.A. streets, where he has been about six months.

"We're not doing too good," said Walker, 36, huddled near two friends. "On a scale from 1 to 10, we're doing about a 4."

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