This article was posted by The Signal Tribune on December 21, 2018.
While “winter” connotes warm holiday relaxation for some, it can prove brutally cold, wet and lonely for others.
The Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services (LBDHH) counted 1,208 “unsheltered” homeless persons in 2017 out of 1,863 total– or about 65 percent– according to its biennial census.
Though the City’s Multi-Service Center (MSC) provides daytime homeless assistance, the Long Beach City Council approved an ordinance in November decreeing a “shelter crisis,” which allows it to use the former Long Beach North Library at 5571 Orange Ave. as an overnight sheltering facility.
As it did last year, the City leased the facility’s 7,318 square feet of space to the nonprofit United States Veterans Initiative (USVI) to operate the shelter rent-free, except for $13,750 to cover utilities and incidental costs.
“U.S. VETS, the provider for this service last year, did an amazing job,” said 8th District Councilmember Al Austin in a press statement recently. “I am glad they are returning to partner with us on this program this year.”
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) funds the shelter’s costs along with seven other such facilities throughout the county.
LAHSA selected USVI through a competitive process to provide 150 beds for area homeless and two meals per person from Dec. 8 through the end of March.
“Overnight staffing shall further provide security and case-management services that link participants to additional programs aimed at establishing improved health and economic sufficiency,” LBDHH stated in its staff report about the shelter at the November city-council meeting.
While the shelter is intended to serve the South Bay region, most of the individuals making use of the facility originate in Long Beach, referred by the MSC and police department, according to LBDHH’s staff report.
The winter shelter is not a walk-in facility. Instead, participants are picked up and dropped off by bus at three different locations– one in San Pedro and two in Long Beach, including the MSC, which also provides showers for shelter attendees.
The shelter operates from 5pm to 7am nightly. Bus pickups begin at 4:15pm in San Pedro and 5pm in Long Beach and return participants to those locations beginning at 5:30am the next day.
Restricted to single adults 18 years and over, participants are not allowed to exit once checked in. They are further limited to one bag of belongings per person, with no carts or pets. Families are not allowed to participate and LBDHH asks them to call 211 for help instead.
According to the latest data compiled by LAHSA, 79 out of 150 beds at the shelter were occupied on Dec. 18. Since the shelter’s opening on Dec. 8, occupancy has averaged 34 percent, or about 51 beds per night. The shelter’s goal is 95-percent occupancy.
Last year, the average occupancy rate was 69 percent for the season, with 789 individuals served, according to LAHSA.
The previous year, when the shelter was at a different location in north Long Beach, occupancy averaged 76 percent. Daily occupancy rates ranged from 24 to 122 percent, with over-capacity dates coinciding with heavy rains.
The winter-shelter program is funded through LAHSA by both the City and County of Los Angeles.
Measure H– the LA County Homeless Initiative passed in 2017– has added $10 per bed to the previous $20-per-bed budget at the shelter. That equates to about $4,500 per night or $517,500 for the approximately 115 nights the Long Beach shelter will operate.
According to Measure H, the additional funding allows the program to “provide enhanced, more intentional services that will lead to increased connection to longer term housing and resources for winter-shelter participants.”
It also supports housing-focused case management so that a greater percentage of participants can be linked to permanent residences, according to the measure.
Though the shelter is run by USVI, only 11 percent of those assessed at the Long Beach shelter last year were veterans, according to demographic data tabulated by LAHSA.
About 71 percent of last year’s shelter participants had lived in a “place not meant for habitation” prior to arrival, according to LAHSA’s data.
Males accounted for about 69 percent of those who had been harbored at the shelter last year. More of the 632 females there had a stronger “priority score” for the need for secure housing– 91 percent had a priority score of two (limited-term rental) or three (permanent housing) compared to 82 percent for men.
The women’s average age was also slightly older than the men, with 27 percent between 46 and 54 years of age compared to 19 percent of men in that age group. That group of women also had a greater need for short-term rental housing. Younger and older females had a higher need for permanent housing.
Besides the emergency winter shelter, Long Beach has year-round shelters, including the Samaritan House and Lydia House– both operated by the Long Beach Rescue Mission– and Project Achieve and the Elizabeth Anne Seton Residence operated by Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, according to LBDHH.
Teresa Chandler, LBDHH’s human-services bureau manager, stated in a press release that throughout the year, her staff and the bureau’s community partners canvas Long Beach daily, engaging people who are homeless and offering emergency shelter, transportation, access to service providers and opportunities for housing.
She also said the City leads a Continuum of Care program, which collaborates with businesses, neighborhood associations, nonprofits, faith-based agencies and medical and educational institutions to proactively address homelessness.
“The winter-shelter program provides much needed temporary shelter for individuals living on the streets during inclement weather,” Mayor Robert Garcia said in a press statement. “The shelter not only provides a safe place to sleep, but also links individuals to services and resources to help them rebuild their lives.”
For more information on the winter shelter, visit LAHSA.org. For assistance, call the winter-shelter hotline at (800) 548-6047.