Ramona Choyce, 44, said that she did not believe that people should be forced into shelters. “What is shelter?” she rhetorically asked as she waded through the water just outside the Wood Street encampment, sorting recyclables that she planned to sell so that she could buy propane. Ms. Choyce said that she had four dogs and valued the private space of her R.V. “I can’t just give them away,” she added of her pets. “They’re my kids.”
In Los Angeles, where the newly elected mayor declared a state of emergency to address the city’s homelessness crisis, advocates worried particularly about Skid Row, a fixture of homeless encampments located downtown. Among the 4,400 homeless people there, less than half identify as sheltered.
“Most of them have years of street life and are pretty adept at surviving on the streets, but this cold and wet weather increases the likelihood of people dying from exposure, and that’s something we’re all very concerned about,” said Mike Arnold, the president and C.E.O. of the Midnight Mission, a long-established shelter in the area.
With flash flood warnings in Los Angeles County, local organizations were handing out rain gear, ponchos and even tents, which they usually do not distribute for fear that recipients will avoid seeking shelter. But a shortage of temporary beds has left limited options, a problem exacerbated by the coronavirus as well as the winding down of a state initiative that had provided hotel and motel rooms during the pandemic.
The mission, which has about 270 beds and, like most shelters in the area, is close to capacity, has been trying to figure out how to quickly add temporary canopies to its outdoor courtyard to offer refuge, albeit unheated.
“Covid has really complicated all of our organizations’ abilities to respond quickly when we have wet, cold weather,” Mr. Arnold said. “We used to have space like a gymnasium and our public dining room that we could open up and invite people in and keep them warm. But once Covid gets into a shelter it moves like wildfire.”