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Homeless woman dies on Skid Row following El Niño rains

File: Skid Row in Los Angeles contains one of the largest populations of homeless people in the United States.
File: Skid Row in Los Angeles contains one of the largest populations of homeless people in the United States.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

A 70-year-old homeless woman was found dead on Skid Row on Friday, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. The cause of her death was hypothermia. It is believed to be the first known El Niño-related death in Los Angeles.

"She was found unresponsive on the sidewalk under a blue tarp-blanket. The investigation revealed that she had been exposed to the rain elements overnight. Her clothing was wet, and her body was cold and damp," LAPD officer Norma Eisenman told KPCC.

In anticipation of last week's rains, four weather-activated shelters were opened to house the unsheltered homeless, but the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority told KPCC's Erika Aguilar that turnout had been low: "In some of those county shelters, single digits of people," according to authority spokeswoman Naomi Goldman.

Aguilar writes that a report from the Los Angeles Civil Grand Jury found that roughly 29,000 people — or 70 percent of the county's 44,000 homeless — do not have shelter on a given night.

The grand jury expressed strong concern about the lack of beds in shelters, especially during unseasonably cold and wet winter:

The CGJ (Civil Grand Jury) is pleased that there is an effort to clear riverbanks and dry washes of human encampments as the winter approaches, but we are very concerned that the 2,772 shelter and surge capacity beds planned by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is just a fraction of the number necessary to shelter homeless people in severe weather.

The homeless woman who died on Friday night was discovered on Stanford Ave., south of E. 6th St. Authorities say she refused an offer of shelter from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority two days before she died. The staff at a nearby hotel had also offered to take her in, but the woman reportedly turned down the offer.

Mayor Eric Garcetti has said that LAPD officers can temporarily detain homeless people if they're camped near the L.A. River and refuse to seek shelter. Officer Eisenman told KPCC that the LAPD was trying to get clarification as to whether officers could temporarily detain homeless people refusing shelter elsewhere in the city.

This story has been updated.