Los Angeles area mutual aid groups are worried city and county officials are not moving fast enough to prepare those who live on the street for Hurricane Hilary, which could bring heavy rain and winds, and flooding, to the Southern California region.
Groups like Palms Unhoused Mutual Aid, West Valley Homes Yes, and LA Street Care are scrambling to gather supplies and get the word out to unhoused communities about Hurricane Hilary, which has been increasing in intensity rapidly, and is anticipated to be a tropical storm when it is projected to hit Los Angeles starting around Sunday.
Mutual aid groups have been contacting elected officials to get specifics on what shelters are being stood up, and asking if supplies and free transportation are being made available to the unhoused. They are also asking about whether evacuations are being considered.
Erin Mauffray, with Palms Unhoused Mutual Aid, said that she expects communities and churches will be putting in the bulk of the aid, but she is hoping to see more specifics from elected and government officials.
“We should be in overdrive right now,” she said.
Members of a group that does outreach in the San Fernando Valley, West Valley Homes Yes, spent Thursday warning people about the storm. Kim Olsen, of WHVY, said they are also working to figure out ways to safely transport and distribute food and supplies this weekend amid the potentially dangerous weather conditions. They are trying to get rain ponchos and tents to unhoused communities, on top of their usual food and water distributions, Olsen said.
Kris Rehl, a member of LA Street Care, which serves the Hollywood area, said they are “monitoring the situation, but we purchased tarps, emergency blankets, and socks to prepare for the inclement weather.” They are also reaching out to council offices to ask about preparedness and advocate for emergency shelters if necessary.
Multiple mutual aid groups on Friday also issued an open letter to city and county officials, calling for all public buildings to be opened up so people can shelter during the storm. The letter also said that when the city passed its anti-camping law in 2021, it prompted people to flee public areas, pushing them to places such as tunnels, storm drains, cracks along the LA river and underground.
“We are especially concerned that we will not be able to reach people in these areas to warn them and help our communities prepare,” the wrote.
What are city and county officials doing?
Gabby Maarse, a spokesperson for Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, said Thursday night that the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority “will continue to identify available beds for unhoused Angelenos.”
She did not say if they were calling off CARE+ sweeps, a city sanitation operation that requires unhoused people to remove their belongings from a public area for several hours, which can lead to people losing tents and any tarps that may be needed during the heavy weather.
Bass was set to be joined by the heads of various city departments for a news conference Friday afternoon.
The regional homeless services authority — which does outreach, oversees shelters and matches people to housing — said Friday morning that they were doing outreach and evacuations of “people encamped within the flood control areas around the Santa Fe Dam and throughout the San Gabriel River Watershed, following our well-established rapid response protocols,” said Ahmad Chapman, spokesperson for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
According to Joseph Riser, spokesperson for the city of LA’s Emergency Management Department, the city will be following the “adverse weather annex,” which will be “adapted and supplemented as the weekend unfolds. He added that “if significant flooding appears imminent,” they’ll be using the “urban flooding annex.” If there are mudslides, they will then use the “debris flow annex.”
He says he is expecting the city’s emergency operations center to be activated at “mid-level” this weekend. There are three levels of activation – Level 1 being “low,” with staffing being virtual or hybrid, Level 2 which is “mid-level,” and Level 3, which is “all hands” on deck with “all agencies and liaisons” present at the emergency operations center, Riser said.
“The exact timing of the activation will be based on the progress of the storm,” Riser said. He said that calls between the city, county and others agencies began earlier this week, “and will continue throughout the weekend and into next week as needed.”
County Board Supervisor Janice Hahn was expected to be joined by other county emergency officials to share more information about storm preparations Friday afternoon.
“This storm is coming our way and there is no time to waste,” Hahn said. “LA County is prepared, and today we want to make sure that residents know what to expect. We know that Hilary will not affect all communities across LA County in the same way, but wherever you are, the most important tool to stay safe is information.”