Winter shelter fills up amid cold, wet weather; Long Beach tries to add new site
With its winter homeless shelter consistently filling up over the past few weeks, Long Beach is trying to find space to open a second location while wet weather and low temperatures continue to hit the region.
The winter shelter, which typically runs from the beginning of December through the end of March, got a late start this year, and it’s been in high demand since opening on Dec. 19, according to Paul Duncan, director of the Long Beach Homeless Services Bureau.
“Overall, on most days, we have more people that are looking than beds at this location,” Duncan said at a meeting of the city’s Homeless Services Advisory Committee last week.
The temporary facility at the old Community Hospital site can provide 24-hour shelter and three meals a day to about 80 people. Typically, three or four beds will open up each day but quickly fill up again, according to Duncan.
This has continued to be the case despite plumbing issues that have caused flooding, prompted water to be shut off in most of the building, and forced authorities to bring in porta-potties and handwashing stations as a replacement.
In light of the ongoing shortage of beds, Duncan said, the city is “discussing and looking at the potential of a secondary winter shelter site here in Long Beach.”
The city has some potential locations under consideration that could amount to a “significant expansion,” according to Health Department spokesperson Jennifer Rice Epstein, but it’s unclear yet whether those plans will move forward.
Rice Epstein said she couldn’t provide information on the number of beds, location or other details while the city is still negotiating with property owners who would be renting out the space. Rice Epstein said the city hopes to have more details by the end of the week.
Local homeless advocates say they’ve been frustrated by what they see as disorganization in the winter shelter’s operations.
Pam Chotiswatdi, who does homeless outreach at MacArthur Park, said she urged people to enroll at the winter shelter, but spots filled up before the city ever provided her with details on how people could reserve a bed. On top of that, the promised amenities of showers and toilets weren’t delivered, something she says hurt her relationship with the people she’s trying to reach.
“If we give them false information, they don’t talk to us anymore,” she said.
It’s unclear how many people have been turned away from the shelter so far.
Reservations for people seeking beds are handled by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which didn’t immediately return a call Monday morning, and Long Beach officials said they didn’t have that level of detail.
Something that could be exacerbating the shortage is the practice of holding shelter beds open when it’s unclear if someone has left for good or if they’re going to return.
LAHSA instructs winter shelter operators to give away someone’s bed if they don’t show up for three nights in a row, but that can result in an empty bed going unused for days at a time before someone else is brought in to fill it.
It’s unclear how often this has happened in Long Beach. A representative for the nonprofit First to Serve, which is contracted by LAHSA to handle day-to-day operations at Long Beach winter shelter, didn’t immediately respond to questions.
Duncan said First to Serve tries to make beds available as quickly as possible when they know someone isn’t coming back, but, “It is a little more difficult when the person goes out for the day and doesn’t return that evening to know whether they have intent to return or not.”
LAHSA pays First to Serve $50 per bed per day to run the shelter, according to Duncan.
Long Beach also partially funds the local shelter by paying for things such as on-site security guards and transportation to and from the Multi-Service Center, where clients are taken if they want to enroll or leave.
Long Beach also pays $45,000 a month in rent to the hospital property’s owner, MWN Community Hospital LLC, whose primary investor is longtime Long Beach businessman John Molina.
Providing cold-weather shelter is crucial, because, despite what people may think about living on the street in typically sunny California, shelter during the winter months can be lifesaving, according to Rice Epstein, the Health Department spokesperson.
Since Dec. 19, when the winter shelter opened, “temperatures in Long Beach have dipped into the 40s 11 times and it has rained 7 times,” she said in an email. “Hypothermia can occur in temperatures above 40 degrees, especially in wet conditions and if people do not have warm clothing.”
Long Beach is expecting more rain and lows in the 40s through this week and next week as part of the parade of atmospheric rivers hitting California.
The Long Beach location is the largest of five winter shelters LAHSA is currently funding across the county.
Editor’s note: John Molina is also the primary investor in the parent company of the Long Beach Post. He is not involved in editorial decisions. For more information about the Post’s ownership, visit our transparency portal.
Winter homeless shelter turns off water, brings in port-a-potties after plumbing problems
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