City Councilmembers concerned over stubbornness of homelessness issue; ‘Money is not the issue,’ says housing director
Published : Tuesday, May 21, 2019 | 5:25 AM
Despite a 20 percent drop in Pasadena’s official homeless population count, some members of the City Council Monday expressed dismay and frustration over the City’s most stubborn issue.
According to the City’s Housing Department report, there were 135 fewer homeless people in Pasadena in 2019 than in 2018.
“This is nothing to be proud of. We have a lot of work to do,” said Councilmember Margaret McAustin.
McAustin also pointed out that 58% percent of the homeless “lived” in Pasadena, and that the homeless population is aging.
“We could be looking at a real crisis in senior housing,” she said.
Councilmember Victor Gordo also questioned the amount of financial resources that Los Angeles County is providing the City.
“Are we being shortchanged?” Gordo asked Housing Director Bill Huang. “Is Pasadena receiving its fair share? That should be our top priority.”
Huang responded that there has been an increase in available financial resources, but finding land for building new housing, and even just finding landlords willing to rent to renters with Section 8 vouchers, was becoming more and more difficult.
Gordo told the Council that the City’s successful Rapid Rehousing program was important and that the City should be seeking funding for it from Federal, State and County sources, including Measure H.
The City placed 149 people into Rapid Rehousing in 2018.
Gordo also said the City should “look everywhere to find homes,” including looking at properties owned by Pasadena Unified. City Manager Steve Mermell responded that the City was currently in discussion with PUSD over the possibility of acquiring its surplus properties.
Meanwhile, a clearly frustrated Councilmember John Kennedy said, “I see nothing new or innovative here.”
Kennedy pressed Huang for ideas, suggesting, for example, that new, specially dedicated “blue bonds” (bonds designed to produce positive environmental, economic or climate benefits) could be created.
But Huang told Kennedy that because of recent legislation and tax measures, there is “an unprecedented amount of money out there now” to address homelessness.
“It’s not money,” said Huang. “It’s finding rooms, and its finding actual land, and places to build more housing.”
Kennedy also questioned why African-Americans were 9% of the City’s population, but represented 35% of its homeless population.
Huang responded that there are a number of “systemic issues” in the African-American community creating more obstacles, including “structural racism, issues with the criminal justice system, educational achievement issues, and household incomes.”
“The over-representation is not just a Pasadena issue,” said Huang, “and that’s why it’s a much broader issue. Those systemic issues need to get addressed.”
Councilmember Tyron Hampton also asked Huang why there was a decrease in the homeless numbers.
Huang responded that on the night of the count, the weather was cold, and fewer people may have been out on the streets. Huang added that the City of Los Angeles has increased its number of bad weather shelters, and many homeless might have taken advantage of those, rather than travel to shelters in Pasadena.
Hampton then suggested to Huang that the City needs to partner with other local cities to combine resources, but Huang again said that the issue was not necessarily a question of resources.
The 2019 Pasadena Homeless Count was conducted on Tuesday, January 22nd, with the “night” beginning at sunset on the 22nd and ending at sunrise on the 23rd.
According to the Housing Department report, the count takes place annually during the last ten days in January and measures homelessness by collecting information from people who are living in “unsheltered locations,” such as sleeping outdoors, on the street, in parks, or vehicles, and temporary shelter, such as people living in emergency shelter or transitional housing.
People with family or friends or who are “couch surfing,” said the report, are not included in the count, as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) considers these individuals to be at-risk of homelessness, and not literally homeless.
The City of Pasadena is the lead agency for the Pasadena Continuum of Care (CoC),and is responsible for reporting the findings of the Homeless Count to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), said the report.
Data from the Homeless Count is also included in the CoC’s annual funding application and is used by federal, state, and local funding agencies to allocate resources to the City.
This year’s Homeless Count utilized over 180 volunteers canvassing the City after sunset on the evening of the 22nd, from 8 to 10 p.m., and before sunrise the following morning, from 6 to 8 a.m, to count the total number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness.
The City also conducted a supplemental count of unaccompanied youth between the ages of 18 and 24 years old, according to the report. This dedicated count is part of a nationwide effort, established and recommended by HUD, to improve the understanding and scope of youth homelessness.
According to the report, the Homeless Count provides “a snapshot in time to quantify the size of the population experiencing homelessness at a given point during the year.”
As the report noted, “Though the Homeless Count is particularly useful in tracking trends over time, it is only one of the many different data sources communities should use to assess, understand, and address the needs of those without a safe and stable home. While the methodology employed for the count was the most comprehensive approach available, no methodology allows for a 100% accurate estimate of all people experiencing homelessness.”
The report also emphasized that “Regardless of how successful outreach efforts are, an undercount of people experiencing homelessness is possible. This is especially the case with hard-to-reach subpopulations such as unsheltered families and unaccompanied youth.”
The Homeless Count also does not calculate the total number of people who experience homelessness over a calendar year, which is typically higher than the number of those who experience homelessness at any given time, said the report.