Winter shelters close, forcing hundreds of homeless back to the streets

The entrance hallway at the Union Rescue Mission on San Pedro Street in Skid Row is filled with noise and people. Some are signing in, securing a bed for the night. Others are hoping for more long-term help. There are children. There are suitcases. There are rooms full of people waiting, staring at the walls and rarely speaking to one another. Behind one set of doors, light streams through a window shaped like a cross. The chapel is empty, save for a man practicing at the piano.

At Union Rescue Mission, both hope and despair is housed in one building.

Up on the roof, CEO Rev. Andy Bales is dousing the barbecue with a full bottle of lighter fluid. He puts a match to the charcoal and everyone takes a few steps back as the flames roar to life. Bales is well known for his tendency to start fires — literally, and metaphorically.

Tonight, guests will share one last meal before the winter officially comes to an end. The winter shelters will no longer remain open after today. Vying for beds will be harder when there is 1,600 fewer of them. The Union Rescue Mission appealed to the state and local government for an extension, but received no reply.

According to Bales, more families experiencing homelessness for the first time have been showing up at the mission since the Recession. Foreclosures and evictions are sending people straight from normality into Skid Row within the space of a few hours. The winter shelters have seen an increased number of homeless people seeking shelter since last year, with a 74 percent rise reported at the Glendale facility.

Around 1,600 people, said Bales, will return to the streets in March.

Listen to Rev. Andy Bale:

More from the Union Rescue Mission: An average day at a winter shelter: