Crews try to help SoCal homeless find shelter as cold winter storm approaches

ByEric Resendiz and Grace Manthey KABC logo
Thursday, February 23, 2023
Crews help homeless find shelter for approaching SoCal winter storm
An average of at least seven homeless people die every winter in Los Angeles County due to exposure to the cold, according to coroner's data.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As Southern California's coldest winter storm of the season approaches, outreach crews have been rushing to get people experiencing homelessness under a roof first.

Those living along the Los Angeles River are particularly vulnerable, experts said.

"Nobody wants to get trapped in the water," said Gilbert Diaz, a program manager with the nonprofit Hope The Mission.

"Even though we give them a heads up, anything can happen," he said.

As someone who was formerly homeless, Diaz said he knows firsthand what it's like to brace against mother nature. So he and his team try to coordinate places to stay for those who want the help, as well as give tools to the ones who aren't as accepting.

"We offer them blankets. Next thing they're wet, they're soaked, they're drenched. They're getting sick. What medical attention do they have?" he said.

While it's rare, some deaths among those experiencing homelessness can be attributed, at least in part, to the cold.

Los Angeles County Coroner data between 2016 and 2021 shows there were an average of at least seven deaths among the homeless per year where cold exposure and hypothermia were cited as factors.

This is likely an undercount, as the Coroner's office data doesn't include all deaths, only those that were sudden, violent, unusual, or those where the person had not been seen by a doctor in more than 20 days.

With weather dipping into the 40s at night, Capt. Dusty Clark with the Los Angeles Fire Department swift water rescue team said hypothermia is "at the top of my list."

"Not only monitoring my own members that I'm responsible for, but the public that we come in contact with," he said.

Clark also said being in wet clothes combined with exposure to the low temperatures the city is expecting could cause "a human body [to] go into a state of hypothermia within a very short period of time."

That why Clark and his team encourage everyone to listen to the warnings.

According to the most recent homeless count numbers, there are nearly 70,000 homeless estimated in LA County, and nearly 42,000 in the city. About 7 in 10 are likely unsheltered in both geographies.

"The struggle is real. I wish we had more places to put them in but we have to work with what we have," Diaz said.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is offering six winter shelters this season across LA County. The shelters have a total of 270 beds.

In a statement, Mayor Karen Bass said she is "closely monitoring the evolving situation, and our City Departments are ready to respond to the impacts of the coming storm -- especially when it comes to our unhoused neighbors."

"Extreme weather that means inconvenience for some, can be a matter of life or death for the unhoused. This is why we need to do more -- more outreach and more building, to confront this crisis like the emergency that it is. Winter shelters continue to be activated through LAHSA during this week's cold front. For more information, visit If you are unhoused, you can also call 211," the statement continued.