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How drought and heat are affecting the homeless in Southern California

A homeless man sets up his tent along a street in Los Angeles, California on August 25, 2015. According to a report released today by the Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit research group in Los Angeles, some 13,000 people tumble into homelessness every month in Los Angeles County, where the latest official count of the homeless found 44,000 people living along county streets during a three-day period in January, a increase of 12%  in two years.  AFP PHOTO /FREDERIC J.BROWN        (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
A homeless man sets up his tent along a street in Los Angeles, California on August 25, 2015. According to a report released today by the Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit research group in Los Angeles, some 13,000 people tumble into homelessness every month in Los Angeles County, where the latest official count of the homeless found 44,000 people living along county streets during a three-day period in January, a increase of 12% in two years. AFP PHOTO /FREDERIC J.BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

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As Californians groan about brown lawns and shorter showers because of the drought’s firm grip on the region, homeless people who live outdoors are feel the pinch in a real way.  

There are a number of ways the drought has affected the way people consume water: ripping out lawns; foregoing water at restaurants; shorter showers.   

But for Dylan Rodeksi, 22, who is homeless in Huntington Beach, it means fewer showers.

“They turned off the showers state side because there’s a drought,” he said pointing to a dried out, open-air shower at Huntington State Beach.

In July, officials with California State Parks shut off water to outdoor beach showers and rinse stations in hopes of conserving about 18 million gallons of water annually.

 Some churches offer free showers to the homeless.

The drought has also left public parks with balding shrubs and less flora coverage for homeless people seeking outdoor shelter, said Officer Brian Smith, a homeless liaison officer with the Huntington Beach Police Department.

“The bushes are thinner. They’re getting thinned out about by public works to reduce water consumption,” he said. “So, there are not so many places for people to find the shelter.”

Smith said he believes that's part of the reason why the police department has received more calls lately about homeless people sleeping outside. The homeless are less hidden, he said. For example, Smith said in Central Park, the city's parks departments is clearing out some trees to deal with a beetle infestation.

"That just opens it up so it's just more visible - more out there," he said.

Some homeless people camp out along the Santa Ana River Trail that stretches from Fullerton down to Huntington Beach. The 12-foot wide flood control channel serves as a north-to-south thoroughfare for cyclists and the homeless who often use bicycles for travel.

Several large homeless camps have popped in the middle of the cement-lined trail beneath underpasses. Tents and tarps protect people sleeping outdoors. One established camp has a stone-lined stairway leading to the tents decorated with various household items.

David Gillanders, is a with Human Options, a non-profit in Irvine that houses domestic violence victims.  He also helps the county take a census of the unsheltered homeless people that make camp along the Santa Ana River Trail.

He worries that a potential El Nino this winter could be dangerous.

“If there is rain that’s coming, you’re going to be asking them to quickly move every single article of their personal belongings of their entire life, out of this area,” he said.

Gillanders said an emergency evacuation of that sort would require a coordinated effort among agencies.

Finally, just as a drought can be hot for people with immediate access to fresh water and shelter, it’s just hot, if not worse for the homeless who are at high risk of heat stroke and exhaustion.