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Lack of shelter leaves OC homeless out in cold

December 8, 2009 12:04:22 AM PST
The unusually cold temperatures blanketing Southern California Tuesday are a bitter reminder for the growing number of people finding themselves without a home these winter months. The cold temperatures are what remain of that winter storm that swept through Monday. And Tuesday, the cold presents a new challenge for the many who don't have a warm home to call their own.

Dozens of people have started to line up, and a bus just pulled up to pick up people from different parts of the city to bring them to the National Guard armory in Santa Ana. Tuesday evening, the temperature measured in the low 50s, expected to descend into the 30s overnight.

Raj Gill never thought he would be without a home. "I had an apartment and then I rented a room in a motel on a monthly basis," said Gill.

The 56-year-old now stays at a park in Orange after he lost his job as a travel agent three years ago.

"On any given night we have over 8,000 people who might be homeless. Within a given year the most recent study shows about 21,000," said Larry Haynes, executive director, Mercy House.

The number of homeless people in Orange County is growing with the slower economy.

"We're seeing more people come into our program or shelters, people who are working and were working and aren't used to this," said Haynes.

Even those on the street for years aren't used to the colder temperatures.

"When the rain comes and the cold is here, I try to stay warm with as many layers as I possibly can," said Steve Brink, who is homeless.

Last week, the county started offering an extra 400 beds at two cold-weather homeless shelters at the National Guard armories in Santa Ana and Fullerton.

It's not clear exactly how many other emergency shelter beds are available countywide for those who just need a place to sleep. Some shelters offer beds, but only to people who meet certain criteria, such as being domestic-violence victims.

"It's really cold right now and there's not a lot of emergency shelter," said Haynes.

Next week, the county is expected to unveil its 10-year plan to end homelessness, which could include opening up several sites to serve as emergency shelters year-round.

Gill is skeptical. He says people have a "not in my backyard" mentality.

"As far as shelter, nobody really wants the homeless people in their lot," said Gill.

Those who worked on the 10-year plan remain hopeful a major part of it will be affordable housing.

"The answer to homelessness is elegantly simple: it's housing, affordable housing," said Haynes.

The shelters offer a place to get a meal, a warm shower and a place to sleep for the night, as well as getting access to a variety of services.


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