‘Helping Neighbors Without Homes’: Pasadena’s Homeless Resources Teams Gather for Community Workshop

Speakers explain the rising numbers, talk ‘complex’ solution

Published : Thursday, May 31, 2018 | 5:31 AM

Confronting two years of rising homeless numbers in Pasadena after five straight years of significant decreases, key members of the City’s resource team presented a public briefing Wednesday on their battle to provide roofs for those in need.

The latest numbers from the 2018 homeless count show a 28% increase in Pasadena’s homeless over the past two years.

Of the 677 homeless counted over the evening/morning of January 23 and January 24, 2018, the sharpest increases over previous counts were seen among those living on the streets, in parks, encampments, vehicles, or other places not meant for human habitation.

462 people were living on the streets, or 68% of the total homeless population. According to the staff report, that number is 33% higher than the number of unsheltered people in 2017.

According to officials with Pasadena’s Housing and Career Services Department, the spike is the result of several factors.

At the workshop, “Addressing Rising Homelessness in Pasadena,” six local experts brought forth history, methodology, numbers, experiences, and some hope for the city’s homeless population.

“We count them and survey them,” said Sofia Herrera, research faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary who has been instrumental in the homeless count for years. “We ask them about families, their children. Are they couples? Are they mentally ill? Are they sick?”

The data is then gathered and collated by various agencies, to be used for resource planning and developing remedies and solutions.

City of Pasadena Homeless Programs Coordinator Jennifer O’Reilly Jones said that Pasadena launched its “Housing First” policy in 2011, a year which saw 1,216 homeless on the City’s streets. The program produced dramatic results, she said, bringing down homeless numbers 50% by 2016.

“Housing First” prioritizes housing needs above drug addiction, jobs, finances, or other stumbling blocks, before working on and treating any other issues the homeless person may have.

“There are so many reasons for homelessness,” said Keith Hendricksen, CES Western Region Manager at Union Station Homeless Services, who leads a strategic team dealing directly with homeless every day. “So many chronic homeless for so many reasons.”

“These are the ones you see on the corners, in doorways, the hooded ones, the ones who’ve been on the street for years,” he continued. “We just come with an offering, and we try to build a relationship with them before we are able to help them.”

Hendricksen also noted the passage of at least two measures in the City and County of Los Angeles which have resulted in the hiring of 500 additional outreach workers in the last six months.

“It’s a complex solution,” said Lt. Mark Goodman of the Pasadena Police Department’s HOPE team, which teams police officers with mental health professionals, “and the police department is trying to be part of the solution. We’re interested in referrals, not arrests. We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.”

Pasadena’s HOPE team, one of the first in the region, has also become a model for numerous other law enforcement agencies throughout the County, said Goodman.

The briefing include remarks by June Carr, a Peer Housing Navigator at Union Station Homeless Services who is also a former homeless person.

Carr had worked directly with homeless for many years before becoming homeless herself as anxiety and depression overwhelmed her and sent her on a downward spiral. She lost her job and eventually, her home. She soon found herself on the other side of the table, struggling to put a roof over her own head.

“I didn’t want the financial help,” she said. She gathered together housing funds with the help of her family.

“But,” Carr recalled, “in working with a housing navigator myself, one day, I suddenly asked her, ‘How do I get your job?’”

Carr soon remembered dealing with an 18-old young man living in a car with his father, and sharing a loaf of bread, and seeing people building caves and hutches in the local mountains.

“These are people who belong to somebody,” she told the audience, her voice wavering. ‘When I asked that young man how he was doing for food, he said, ‘We’re sharing a loaf of bread.’ That broke my heart.”

During a question and answer session following the presentation, O’Reilly-Jones said that, despite the popular idea that people come to Southern California from the East Coast, and find themselves homeless, 49% of Pasadena’s homeless are from Pasadena, and 43% are from nearby cities.

“People don’t come here to be homeless,” she said.

The workshop also offered “Six Ways to Address Homelessness in Pasadena,” described as simple solutions for residents and neighbors to assist in the ongoing battle.

  • Refer to Services. Residents can submit an online request for a Homeless Outreach Team to connect with local homeless.
  • Engage Landlords. Inform landlords that the City offers monetary incentives for landlords willing to rent to people experiencing homelessness.
  • Get educated. The City’s annual Homeless Report is available at www.pasadenapartnership.org/homeless-count.
  • Volunteer. Residents may reach out to any of the homeless service providers to learn about their volunteer opportunities
  • Make real change. Money collected at the City’s orange parking meters is matched by foundation dollars from the Real Change Movement, www.realchangemovement.org.
  • Call for help. In an emergency, residents can call 911, and (626) 744-4241 for non-emergency police assistance.

Herrera also noted that people need to be more open to the idea of supportive permanent housing in their communities, noting the success of such developments throughout the city.

“We need to say, ‘Yes, in my backyard,’” said Herrera.

Asked whether or not actually giving money to homeless is a good idea, Carr said she would rather give them food, or buy food for them and give it to them.

“It’s a personal choice,” said O’Reilly-Jones.