Published : Monday, May 20, 2019 | 5:20 AM
Perhaps no subject in Pasadena creates so much conversation or controversy as homelessness.
A report being delivered tonight to the City’s Council will show Pasadena’s official homeless count is down 20 percent from last year’s, but reaction on social media seems more disbelief than relief.
“It is a dominant issue that people are concerned about and talking about,” said Mayor Tornek in an interview with Pasadena Now last week, adding, “It is the number one response that I get from people, in terms of what their priority concerns are.”
Tonight’s annual homeless count report, produced by the City in conjunction with the nonprofit Urban Initiatives, will reveal the 2019 counters found 542 homeless people in Pasadena as compared to 677 in 2018.
Tornek, who is running for re-election in 2020, is also quick to point out that the homeless problem is not just a Pasadena problem.
“I think it’s not just homelessness in Pasadena because I talked to a lot of people who work downtown in LA, and there, they’re completely overwhelmed. So it’s a regional reality, not just a Pasadena story, but it is clearly preying on people’s minds in Pasadena.”
The Mayor also acknowledges that it’s a war to be fought on several fronts, with long-term causes that seem to grow upon themselves.
The fact that the cost of housing has skyrocketed in major cities across the US, is nothing new, says Tornek, but there are so many other contributing causes.
“We have a continuing drug epidemic,” says Tornek, “and a lot of the people on the street are suffering from addiction problems or alcoholism. We have this combination of issues that have resulted”
“Of course, we have increased numbers of people who are being released from prison who are not able to be gainfully employed in spite of the low unemployment rate. They still find it challenging to find a job. And so they are dumped out on the street.”
“And so we have this kind of, this combination of issues that have all conspired to result in people living on the street, not being able to afford housing.”
Ryan Izell of Pasadena’s Union Station Homeless Services Center sees the same trend up close every day.
“One of the things that we’re seeing,” said Izell, who is Union Station’s Chief Operating Officer, “is that, especially with older adults, folks who have fixed income just can’t keep up. Somebody either receiving social security, or disability insurance, and maybe receiving just north of $900 a month.”
At that rate, with rents being what they are regionally, meeting the monthly basics are difficult, he said.
“So we have a kind of structural inequality,” remarked Izell. “We have income that doesn’t provide a livable wage for folks. And then we’ve got the social safety net systems that are really meant to provide support for folks when they’re down-and-out, when they don’t have the resources.”
Unfortunately, says Izell, those safety nets are “porous,” permitting people to fall through the holes and onto the street.
Izell noted his group’s approval of a City proposal to build a mixed-use development at the northeast corner of Fair Oaks Avenue and Orange Oaks Boulevard, which would include 70 units for former homeless seniors.
“That is definitely a step in the right direction, but more opportunities are needed,” he said.
And the region continues to bring up more and more reinforcements to the front.
Measure H, passed by Los Angeles County voters in March 2017, increased the sales tax by a quarter-cent in order to generate an estimated $355 million annually for 10 years to fund a variety of programs to combat homelessness throughout the county.
From those funds, the City Council in January entered into a number of contracts with three local non-profits —Union Station Homeless Services, Friends in Deed, and Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services—to provide supportive services to the homeless, at a total cost of $1,087,925, through June, 2020.
Three contracts were awarded to Union Station Homeless Services to provide rapid rehousing, coordinated entry, and emergency shelter services to people experiencing homelessness, of $660,017.
An additional two contracts were approved for the Ecumenical Council of Pasadena Area Congregations, for the total amount of $277,908 to provide homelessness prevention and emergency shelter services to people at-risk of or experiencing homelessness.
Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services was also awarded to provide rapid rehousing services to transitional-age youth experiencing homelessness, in the amount of $150,000.
According to a Housing Department staff report, the City anticipates obtaining funding annually from the County based on its budget allocations for each homeless initiative strategy the City is eligible to receive for another eight years, in addition to current funding. The contracts are scheduled to run through June 30, 2020.
The City Manager may also authorized raising the amounts of each of the contracts, to a level that does not exceed the amount of additional Measure H funds allocated by the Los Angeles County CEO through LAHSA, and the term of the contract may be extended for up to three one-year periods.
One solution brought to the Council by Tornek is to convert the former Womens’ YMCA building—once slated to become a luxury boutique hotel— to permanent supportive housing, much like the Centennial Building across the Plaza.
And then you provide services for those residents, says Tornek.
“You don’t just warehouse people,” said Tornek. “You provide them with supportive services so they are able to help overcome some of the problems they have, whether it’s job training or addiction or alcoholism, they get services as well as a place to live.”
The City last year proposed a motel conversion ordinance to convert “ready made units” that could come on to the market quickly.
“Our first effort at that was unsuccessful because of opposition, community opposition,” said Tornek. “But it’ll come back again. I think it’s still a useful technique.
“The good news is that it’s now penetrated people’s consciousness,” continued Tornek. “It’s not something that’s invisible to the public. Everybody seems to know about it and be talking about it. And there’s pressure mounting for us to do something about it. But there isn’t necessarily consensus around exactly what we should do.
Added Tornek, “we don’t have enough resources to be able to do what we should be doing. To have 400 or 500 people sleeping on the street in Pasadena every night, is wrong. It’s not right.”