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Homeless people are drenched, but L.A. will not open the winter shelter until December

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Walter Smith was awakened by the rain on Wednesday morning. It flowed from above, through the torn holes in the tent he had pitched in a downtown park, and seeped through the bottom and soaked his shirt, trousers, and socks.

"If you don't wake up before it comes down hard, you'll wake up soaking wet," said Smith, a 56-year-old man with a cough who said he'd been homeless for three years. He was worried about where he would find more clothing that fits with his hefty frame – size 13 shoes and size 40 pants. "I can't find a way to waterproof a tent."

While storms, hail, and chilly temperatures have fallen on Los Angeles, tens of thousands of people who sleep on the street have trouble staying dry and warm.

The wet and cool weather comes less than two weeks before the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority launches its winter care program, which is aimed at giving people more nighttime options when the temperature drops. LAHSA spokesman Ahmad Chapman said that "due to funding restrictions, that program will not be opened until December 1."

During the Union Rescue Mission on skid row, CEO Andy Bales said the building was full and complained that his non-profit was still waiting for approval from the city to open a new structure in the parking lot to accommodate homeless women.

"There is no way anyone could keep this up for a long time," Bales said about the cold and wet weather.

Margaret Wiley outside her tent on skid row on Wednesday.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

In nearby Crocker Street, John Gunn and Margaret Wiley dealt with the wet mess in their side-by-side tents on Wednesday. Gunn complained that the pool had hit his tent & # 39; in the night and mused that she & # 39; tents on stilts. Wiley had returned tent after a burst of hail and discovered that her new clothes were soaked.

"Everything that will keep me warm is soaked," Wiley said shaking.

Wendell Blassingame had set up a large umbrella and a folding table in San Julian Park, shielded by a sail, his usual function as & # 39; skid row fixer & # 39; maintained, but homeless people may have helped. On Tuesday, he said he handed out nearly a thousand pairs of socks. Armed with a small notebook on Wednesday, he waited for dozens of coats from someone who had just called him on his flip phone.

“I only had four plastic jackets with a hood and BAM at 8 o'clock! I passed them on immediately, & Blassingame said.

Local activists say they have been flooded with requests for tarps and blankets for the homeless. Jane Nguyen, one of the co-founders of Ktown for All, said she & # 39; shocked & # 39; was that it fell on & # 39; a group of unpaid volunteers to provide the basic needs of the most vulnerable people & # 39; instead of government agencies.

"We do our best to meet the need," said Nguyen.

Desire Rimbert moves her things under a tent

Desire Rimbert, 27, from Colorado, works to protect her belongings under her tent near slip-resistant, while rain and hail fall in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

She warned that the rain would probably lead to more people with hypothermia and other ailments. Last year, five homeless people died in L.A. County from causes that included or made hypothermia, according to the coroner's office. That's more than in New York City or San Francisco.

Joanna Swan, who works as a volunteer with the Street Watch L.A. group, said she had collected plastic left over from packing up huge works of art during her day's work and taking it to the streets of Chinatown to protect their belongings.

In extreme weather, "minor issues with your tent become much greater issues," Swan said.

The rain can be especially dangerous for people camping near waterways, such as the Los Angeles River. Chapman, the spokesperson for LAHSA, said in recent days outreach teams have gone to flood prone areas to warn of the upcoming rain and "encourage people to find a safer location."

John Gunn is jumping over his tent in skid row on Wednesday

John Gunn jumps across the water in his tent in skid row on Wednesday.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Some city rules are eased during the rain, according to L.A. officials. Alex Comisar, a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Garcetti, said in areas where it rains, that tents may stay during the day and that city crews only & spot cleaning & # 39; instead of extensive cleaning actions where people have to remove and move their tents.

However, members of the Services Not Sweeps coalition complained that the cleaning work had continued in the days before the rain and that people had lost crucial assets as a result.

While the rain stopped on the skid row, Taviah Hopkins was standing under the overhang of a building, flanked by shopping carts full of her possessions. She went to a nearby center to shower, but for a moment the cold seemed to overwhelm her.

"I can't move," Hopkins said. "The rain – it sheds me."

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