LA's winter shelters open for the season amid increasing homeless population

David Foyer conducts the
David Foyer conducts the "Homeless Count" survey on a sidewalk in Hollywood, Calif., while police clear out homeless youths loitering outside a nearby business.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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Natalie Komuro, executive director of Ascensia, pushes open the door of a single-story warehouse in Glendale. Right now the shelter's empty, but from December through March, 80 single adults who don't have a place to sleep will stay here each night. 

It might be a crunch.

"I think 45 here, and then we'll fit another 15 here," says Komuro, pointing to various corners of the giant room. "And then we'll have the dining table set up for meals."

Each year, about 1,500 extra beds open around the county for the colder, rainier winter months. The program's been going on for at least two decades.

This year, in addition to hot meals and a place to sleep, each shelter will be helping homeless clients enroll in medical and mental health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Other factors also make this year a bit different. Mike Arnold of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, says the homeless population has increased about 15 percent from two years ago. 

He identifies a variety of reasons for the increase. Rents are high in L.A. and vacancy is low. Arnold says federal budget cuts have hit housing resources like Section 8. And, he says, in California, prison realignment has put more former inmates on the street with fewer resources. 

"So all of those conspire, I think, to make it a very very challenging time," Arnold says. 

For Natalie Komuro, operating a winter shelter is crucial, but she wishes the long term resources were in place.

"Seven people died on the streets in Glendale since last year," she says. "And we know they were winter shelter clients. When the program ended, they didn't have anywhere to go."

Those looking for shelter can call the county's helpline, 211, or visit the LAHSA website. Ascensia is also looking for volunteers to cook meals for shelter clients between now and March 1.