News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by A Martínez
Airs Weekdays 2 to 3 p.m.

El Niño rains are here, but are the homeless getting help in time?




A sign reading 'Skid Row' is painted on a wall next to the Los Angeles Mission, September 22, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles' Skid Row contains one of the largest populations of homeless people in the United States
A sign reading 'Skid Row' is painted on a wall next to the Los Angeles Mission, September 22, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles' Skid Row contains one of the largest populations of homeless people in the United States
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Listen to story

04:17
Extra Audio:
Download this story 4.0MB

El Niño rains are finally drenching Southern California.

While that's good news to alleviating the drought, it's very bad for a segment of the population: the homeless. More than 26,000 people live in Los Angeles County without a roof over their heads.

The L.A. City Council pledged in mid-November to take bold steps in getting people off the streets during this time.

SCPR editor Rina Palta joins Take Two to explain what promises they kept in time.

What has Los Angeles done so far to keep people safe during El Niño?

Typically every year, the county opens winter shelters with a capacity of 2,000 beds. They're doubling that because of new funding from the county board of supervisors and the city council.

Also, typically these shelters are only open overnight. But there's new money to keep the shelters open 24 hours for up to 21 days when the weather's particularly bad. Both the city and county governments are also looking for additional emergency spaces that could open up if the shelters fill up and more space is needed.  

Before November, several city lawmakers also spoke on the steps of city hall saying they want to declare a state of emergency. But have they actually done that yet?

What they did is direct the city attorney to draft a crisis ordinance. So they expressed their intent to declare an emergency, basically. It hasn't been finalized, but just taking that first step has allowed them to do things they ordinarily wouldn't be able to do.

What kinds of things are they able to do now?

One thing is to expedite the opening up of unconventional shelters.

For example, a church in Highland Park opened its doors and is allowing people to sleep on benches in the pews. Ordinarily to get city or county funding to help with expenses, the church would have to go through a review process, get public comment from neighbors, maybe even put in additional plumbing and restrooms.

But with the emergency, those steps can be bypassed. Plus, the city and the county have been able to provide the church with some money to help with expenses without the red tape.

Once they actually vote on the final ordinance, some council members like Mike Bonin say they can do more of that.

Will any of these planned changes be enough for the area's big homeless population, and will they be in time?

That's the question – a couple thousand extra shelter beds are obviously great to have, but will it be enough?

The L.A. Homeless Services Authority says that it's going to be monitoring the shelters closely to see if they're filling up every night. They'll also be looking for additional emergency space for people. But their funding, for the moment anyway, is pretty much all allocated already.

What have critics said about the pace with which local lawmakers have been moving?

There is definitely tension at play.

In recent years, the city and county have been focusing on what's called "housing first." That means throwing your resources at getting permanent housing for homeless, the idea being that emergency shelters do not solve the problem.

The problem is it takes a long time to build homes. In the meantime, there are thousands living on the streets and now a bad winter this year.

That means there could be added pressure for the city and county to invest in more emergency housing instead of looking long term.

The rains are already here this week, but what else is on lawmakers' agendas?

Homelessness will be a big topic all month at the L.A. City Council.

We're expected to get a strategic plan for the city to deal with the homeless crisis and find necessary funds to provide proper services, so expect more on this soon.