With the news of the looming El Niño returning, Californians are gearing up for more water. Continual rainfall throughout winter is expected to quench drought-parched landscapes, bring the L.A. River basin to back to life, and for many, offer a change from the typical dry climate California lifestyle. At the same time there is also a sense of urgency in the air, as both homeowners and city officials make preparations and precautions for flooding, alongside the real possibility of facing urban infrastructures failures under the deluge of predicted heavy precipitation.
Another topic I continue to notice being discussed – beyond the infrastructure of our urban landscape – is how El Niño storms will affect a particularly vulnerable part of our city’s population: the homeless.
For better or for worse, statistically speaking the number of outdoor encampments and self-constructed shelters within Los Angeles has been on the rise. The Los Angeles County increase in the homeless population is due to several factors, including rapid urban development, economic hardship, and the drought’s upside of temperate weather for the last four years. These Angelenos living on the streets are highly susceptible to the dangers of the upcoming El Niño storm patterns.
Actions are currently being taken by the L.A. County to alleviate this issue by opening and reaching out to the homeless community in high flood zones to take refuge in temporary city mandated shelters. More information about these shelters available at The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
Is there the potential to do more to help the homeless during El Niño season? Yes. But as a landscape architect, I was reminded of several academic projects I worked on back in school that dealt with natural disasters, such as earthquakes and flood plains, and where I was challenged to develop strategies to combat the after effects of these natural emergency occurrences. The upcoming El Niño storms and the homeless in Los Angeles may not be categorized as a natural disaster from a design sense, but maybe there is the potential to approach this topic as a uniquely Los Angeles disaster, one requiring both preemptive and reactive measures where the rain doesn’t leave part of our population literally out in the cold.