Winter shelters in LA may reopen to homeless

L.A. lacks shelter space for the homeless, and county officials think they may have an interim, albeit imperfect solution.
L.A. lacks shelter space for the homeless, and county officials think they may have an interim, albeit imperfect solution.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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As part of an effort to rapidly boost the number of shelter beds available to L.A.'s homeless, officials are turning to the county's winter shelter system.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted unanimously to keep county-funded winter shelters open until at least November, provided they're able to continue operating. Separate motions by Supervisors Janice Hahn, Kathryn Barger, and Hilda Solis specifically mentioned seasonal shelters in Bell, Pomona, and Long Beach as potential year-round sites.

Tuesday's vote provided funding, but logistics remain an issue. Winter shelters are pop-up shelters that traditionally open in spaces otherwise used as churches, warehouses, and armories during the cold, rainy winter months. They don't typically have year-round staff or a permanent home.

"There is some work to do, it won't be open next week," said Kelly Colopy, director of the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services. But she said, she's confident it won't be long before Long Beach secures a site and an operator for a pop-up shelter.

"This will give people a place to sleep in the summer," she said. "During the incredible heat, there's been no place for protection."

Colopy said Long Beach would love to have a publicly funded permanent shelter for its roughly 2,300 homeless people as well – which Measure H, a sales tax passed in March to fund homeless services, could make possible. 

While year-round shelters may stay open 24/7 and offer on-site storage, a bed for a few weeks, health screenings, connections to long-term housing, and other services, winter shelters are traditionally pretty bare-bones, offering a place to sleep for a single night at a time and a meal.

The county, under its comprehensive homeless initiative, called for more of this robust type of shelter to be created with Measure H funds. On Tuesday, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl noted that make-shift winter-shelter style spaces don't fit that bill.

The county, she said, needs to "find a way to transition from the one-hot-and-a-cot process that they have at some of these shelters" if it wants to move people into permanent housing. 

"Until we get to the time where we can provide a better alternative, we need these places," Hahn, who authored the motion, said."Sometimes they're the only available roofs over someone's head in L.A. County."