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L.A.'s Plans To Help Homeless During El Niño Are 'Grossly Inadequate,' Civil Grand Jury Says

Mayor Garcetti speaking with a homeless vet (Photo by Vanessa via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Los Angeles County is not prepared to protect the region's homeless population during El Niño storms, according to a new report. A new report released by L.A. County's Civil Grand Jury says that the largest cities within the county have failed to provide enough shelter beds for the severe weather, and calls the situation “unconscionable and grossly inadequate,” according to the L.A. Times. Despite county efforts to add emergency shelters and move encampments from flooding areas, the jury determined that there's shelter space for only a fraction of the homeless population to protect them from rain, cold and flooding.

"Not enough is being accomplished to alleviate the suffering that is certain to increase among those who lack reliable shelter as a massive El Niño weather pattern approaches," the report says.

The report shows that 70 percent of L.A.'s estimated 44,000 homeless sleep outdoors, and urges officials to develop better strategies to provide shelter for the estimated 29,000 people without much protection from the inclement weather. Recommendations to address the issue include asking agencies and officials to identify public and private buildings that could serve as temporary shelters and to relax health, fire and safety code ordinances that would otherwise prevent them from being used as a shelter. The report also suggests providing tents, tarps and ponchos to anyone who can't utilize a shelter because they have pets or can't find room at existing shelters. "Every step should be taken to assure that unsheltered people remain dry and avoid hypothermia," the report says.

To develop the report, the Civil Grand Jury sent questionnaires to the L.A. Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) and to city managers, asking for their current estimate of homeless people in their area and what emergency plans they had in place for shelter during extreme weather. The report then focused on the 16 largest cities in the county, and determined that only a small portion of the homeless population in those cities would find available beds.

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Officials from LAHSA responded to the report with a statement saying that protecting the vulnerable homeless population is a top priority for L.A. city and county officials, reports the L.A. Daily News. “City and county agencies have been working in an assertive and highly coordinated effort on preparedness and operational plans to expand the region’s annual winter shelter program," the statement says. A more formal response from LAHSA is planned.

Vicki Curry, a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Garcetti, also says that he will take the recommendations into consideration. "The Mayor will use every tool available to save the lives of our most vulnerable during this El Niño season," Curry tells KPCC.

LAHSA spokesperson Naomi Goldman, also points out that despite the apparent lack of shelter space, many of the beds in the emergency shelters remain vacant, even during this week's rain “The utilization was extremely low,” Goldman tells KPCC. “In some of those county shelters, single digits of people.” She says that emergency response teams and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department continue to encourage homeless people sleeping outdoors to take shuttles to the available shelters.