Winter shelters for the homeless will open soon across the Los Angeles County region, where nearly 60,000 people -- the most in the nation -- live in what are considered to be inhabitable places.
Beginning now and available through March, about 1,500 beds will become available to men, women and children in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, as well as in Long Beach and other parts of Los Angeles County. Most begin allowing residents Dec. 1.
"If it's warm, you don't see as many people," said George McQuade, a spokesman with the Los Angeles Housing Services Authority (LAHSA), which partners in the venture with the California National Guard and other service agencies.
"Some years it's colder than others, but we're always prepared," he said. "We have extra cots in most shelters. They're prepared for the worst."
Temperatures in the start of this week are expected to dip into the low 50s, according to weather forecasts, but a 60 percent chance of showers is expected for Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. Rain may remain in the area through Friday.
The numbers of homeless men, women and children increased sharply in the San Fernando and Antelope valleys in the last two years but have decreased in some parts of the county, including in the South Bay, according to figures released over the summer by LAHSA. The agency conducts the homeless count every two years in January to document the number of people within the 4,000 square miles of the county without a permanent, livable place to call home.
The data found there were 57,737 homeless people in Los Angeles County, including Long Beach -- a 16 percent increase since 2011. Those who work with the homeless noted there have been geographical shifts in where the transient are concentrated. Unemployment, prison alignment and housing shortages all continue to affect communities.
In the San Fernando Valley, there were 7,790 homeless found this year, compared with 4,837 counted in 2011. Of those, the number of hidden homeless -- those living in backyards, converted garages or other places deemed uninhabitable -- nearly tripled within the same time frame, from 1,007 to 2,953.
There was an increase countywide of single, white homeless men, which LAHSA officials said could be attributed to AB 109, the prison-realignment law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011 that transferred more low-level criminals to local jails. Many can't find affordable housing when released, officials have said. Families are also struggling, because Section 8 government vouchers stopped due to the federal sequestration.
But there were some decreases as well. The number of homeless vets has decreased by 23 percent, a result of an increase in federal funding specifically aimed at addressing veteran homelessness.
In the South Bay, for example, the number of homeless veterans fell to 685, or a nearly 73 percent decrease since 2011.
In northern Los Angeles County, 10 to 15 percent of the homeless men who come to the 54-bed winter shelter in Santa Clarita are veterans from the recent wars, said Tim Davis, executive director of Bridge to Home, which runs the facility. That shelter, which opened Monday, has 40 beds for single men and 14 beds for women. Bridge to Home also operates a program for families and a winter 125-bed facility in Sylmar, set to open on Dec. 14.
"The majority we see every year is single men," Davis said. "It's very uncommon when we have 14 women. We see a lot of veterans. Now we're seeing young veterans also."
If a family is homeless, they may qualify for an assistance program. "They're assigned a case manager, and we work hard to get them a house and job in 30 days," Davis said.
For more information, call the Winter Shelter Hotline at 800-548-6047. ___