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Southern California Moves To Protect Homeless As El Niño Rain Hits Region


There are two sides to El Nino's effect on California right now. On the one hand, it's bringing a lot of rain to the drought-stricken state - and that's the good part. On the other hand, it's a threat to areas that are below hillsides and extremely difficult for homeless people. NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: After years of drought, Southern Californians aren't used to dealing with rain. But some people have no choice. Jesse Greenwald was standing on a street corner in his yellow slicker and big rubber boots doing a topographical survey for Culver City. How was he doing?

JESSE GREENWALD: Cold. Yeah, we're not prepared. I need better pants. Yesterday, I was completely soaked, and I should've learned my lesson. But I figured I'd tough it out for one more day.

JAFFE: Actually, he was hoping the rain would get worse.

GREENWALD: I'm hoping for it to really come down so we can call it a day and go home.

JAFFE: Oh, if it gets really bad, then you get to leave?


JAFFE: Not bad enough.

GREENWALD: Not bad enough yet, but we're getting there.

JAFFE: Today will probably be the worst of it for this week. It'll keep raining but not as hard. One of the real dangers are hillsides that have burned and could send mud and rocks flowing into whatever is below. Actually, that's already happened on highway 101 in Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles. The major thoroughfare had to be closed for several hours while the mud was cleaned off. There are also flood and high surf warnings up and down California's coast, says National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Wofford.

MIKE WOFFORD: We have high surf coming up to around 15 feet in some areas, maybe even up to 20 feet in some of our West-facing beaches up north. That, of course, will bring the potential for some coastal erosion right at the beaches.

JAFFE: In fact, there's a flash flood warning for the entire San Francisco Bay area, and motorists driving in the mountains are being warned of potential blizzard conditions. In the Los Angeles area, one of the biggest concerns is the thousands of people who are homeless, many of whom camp along the concrete channels where local rivers flow. Those can turn into rushing torrents when it rains. The city of LA has opened up more than 1,100 additional shelter beds, and outreach workers have been trying to convince homeless people to get out of harm's way since last July. Ruben Ayala waited until the rain began yesterday to move away from the Los Angeles River. It was just a little late.

RUBEN AYALA: Everything is getting wet - all my blankets, clothes, everything. All my personal items are getting wet. It's a great loss.

JAFFE: But he knew that the rain and the river posed a greater threat than just soaking his stuff.

AYALA: So I don't go near that water because I know once you go into that water, there's a very slim chance you'll make that way.

JAFFE: There are more storms forecast for next week. El Nino could continue to bring rain to California for at least a couple more months, though it's unlikely to make up for years of drought. Ina Jaffe, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."