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Cold Westside weather sees winter shelter demand rise

Shuttles have been transporting those in need from a pickup location at Market Street and Ocean Front Walk in Venice to the Westside Winter Shelter each evening between 5 pm and 7:15 pm since Dec. 1, 2014. It will continue through March 15. Photo by Jennifer Eden
Shuttles have been transporting those in need from a pickup location at Market Street and Ocean Front Walk in Venice to the Westside Winter Shelter each evening between 5 pm and 7:15 pm since Dec. 1, 2014. It will continue through March 15. Photo by Jennifer Eden

With temperatures plummeting below 40 degrees this past week, Westside’s homeless have pushed winter shelters past capacity as hundreds head indoors for heat and comfort. A boosted program encompassing Venice Beach has helped ease the conditions for some.

The annual Winter Shelter Program began Dec. 1 and will continue through to March 15. A total of 1,521 beds are available across the City and County of Los Angeles at 21 different shelter locations, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).

The program received an assist late 2014 when a formal agreement, proposed by Los Angeles Councilman Mike Bonin, between the City of Los Angeles and People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), was unanimously approved. The contract between the City and PATH allows PATH to focus outreach services on the Venice community, prioritizing help for chronically homeless individuals, as well as transitioning them into housing opportunities.

By working with the County and local service providers such as PATH, and neighbors in Venice, Bonin explained that his goal is to get as many people as possible in a warm bed.

“PATH is an excellent organization with a proven history of getting people off the street and connected with the services they need,” he said. “No one in Los Angeles who is willing to accept help should be forced to rest their head on pavement at night.”

Currently, shuttles carry those in need from a pickup location at Market Street and Ocean Front Walk in Venice and go to the Westside Winter Shelter each evening between 5 pm and 7:15 pm. Located at West Los Angeles National Guard Armory in West L.A., the shelter is operated by First to Serve Inc. and offers 160 beds for people who would otherwise sleep on the street in Westside communities.

The annual Winter Shelter Program is providing 30 additional beds throughout the County this year, explained Brenda Threatt, LAHSA Winter Shelter Manager, but with demand so great, further spaces are constantly needed.

“Due to the extreme weather conditions, Winter Shelter agencies provided extra beds and we saw the numbers exceed the 1,521 capacity up to 1,600 persons,” Threatt said.

Winter Shelters provide cover, warmth, food, and comfort to homeless individuals during the cold and wet weather season.

For the past 20 years LAHSA has coordinated the Winter Shelter Program in partnership with local non-profit homeless service agencies to administer day-to-day operations of each program site.

The response to the 2014-2015 Winter Shelter Program has been extraordinary, said Threatt.

“Los Angeles County experienced severe weather the very first day of the Winter Shelter Program… and has had several instances of wet and extreme cold days,” she said, adding that all Winter Shelter locations have been filled each evening with clients eager to get in out of the rain and the cold and enjoy warmth and a hot meal.

All receive a warm dry place to sleep, two meals and case management services which can include medical screenings, social service assessments, and housing referrals.

“Everybody benefits when we help get those in need off the street and into a bed for the night,” Bonin added. “Not only does the shelter help connect homeless individuals with longer-term support services, but shelter helps make our communities safe and clean.”

The service provides a critical benefit for those in need of a bed at night, particularly during these cold winter months, he said.

“Addressing homelessness and solving the problems facing Venice is not going to be easy, and it is not going to happen quickly,” the councilman explained. “It will take focus, cooperation, and a multi-pronged strategy involving various government agencies, community organizations, and residents. My staff and I are working with partners every single day to find solutions that work for Venice and I am optimistic about the future of our neighborhoods.”

Without the Winter Shelter Program, there would just be rain, hunger and cold, said Threatt.

“Winter Shelter, for some who are homeless, is a winter home,” she added.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also recently urged those without a roof over their heads to seek protection from the chilly weather at the Winter Shelters.

“If you do not have shelter or your residence is not warm enough, call our Winter Shelter hotline or go to a designated pick-up point to be transported to a shelter,” Garcetti said.

LAHSA has administered the Winter Shelter Program since 1994. The City and County of Los Angeles fund the program with the support of the California National Guard providing shelter sites at armories.

The 2013-2014 Winter Shelter Program provided emergency shelter and services to more than 7,600 homeless individuals; 355 were placed into emergency, temporary, or permanent housing.

For more information on the Winter Shelter Program, visit lahsa.org or call the hotline 800.548.6047.

• Do you have a story idea or news tip? Contact Jennifer Eden by email at Jennifer@smmirror.com.

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