Pasadena – which ranked first among 32 cities in 24 states for reducing homelessness from 2009-2016 in a just-released survey report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors – has also quietly accomplished another feat: there are no longer any unsheltered homeless families living here.
“We’re happy to say that according to our last survey, we don’t have any homeless families out on the streets,” said Pasadena’s Department of Housing and Career Services Director William Huang.
Huang said Pasadena recorded a drop of more than a 60 percent in the number of homeless families as reported in the Hunger and Homelessness Survey, and that much of the credit for the achievement should go to the City’s Housing First program,
That program, he said, was created to quickly provide permanent housing to homeless individuals and families, as opposed to moving them through different levels of temporary housing before eventually placing them in independent housing.
Some residents say homelessness is still prevalent and is an obvious source of crime. City officials say there still is a homeless presence but the numbers have dropped dramatically from the all-time high of 1,216 in 2011 to 530 in 2016, down 56 percent.
How has Pasadena reduced these numbers? Huang said the City is applying “best practices” in solving the homelessness problem – epitomized, in large measure, by the Housing First program.
According to Huang, since the program’s inception it has focused on moving people to permanent housing as soon as possible instead of a phase-by-phase movement from temporary shelters, where individuals could spend months, before moving them on to permanent housing.
“We implemented our Housing First project five years ago and we have housed over 200 people during that period,” Huang said. “We identify first the most vulnerable among our homeless and then we reach out and build trust with them and get them into permanent housing. Once we get them to permanent housing, that’s when we address the other issues – mental health, substance abuse, physical chronic illnesses, things like that.”
Police Department spokesman Lt. Vasken Gourdikian said HOPE teams – HOPE stands for Homeless Outreach-Psychiatric Evaluation – reach out to the homeless population and provide support.
Gourdikian said that the City of Pasadena “has approached the homeless situation quite proactively, as opposed to reactively.”
“We have encountered a phenomenon that many of the homeless, or at least a large number, are service-resistant, meaning they’re not inclined to want to receive the services by the county, so they’re content with being homeless,” Gourdikian said. “In the last handful of years, our City’s homeless population has decreased quite dramatically and, partnered with City of Pasadena Housing, they have been successful in permanently housing a number of our homeless. They have been able to transition to permanent housing.”
Other community organizations taking part in the Housing First program indicate it has been successful largely because they approach matches a “house first, treat second” approach to serving the homeless.
Ryan Izell, Chief Program Officer for Union Station Homeless Services, says the idea behind Housing First is that housing is seen as a basic human right, and that barriers, such as drug testing, should be lessened to allow applicants to get housed first.
“We want to support people getting access to permanent housing as quickly as possible, do that in a way that targets their specific needs,” Izell said. “So we match the housing intervention to the needs of the individual or the needs of the family and then wrap them in services so that they can be successful in maintaining that housing.”
Izell also points to the number of organizations involved in working with the homeless.
“Pasadena has an amazing continuum of providers that are working together,” Izell said. “And this has been going on for a very long time such that it quite often happens that somebody is receiving services from more than one agency. There are a ton of volunteers who help out and other organizations who lend a hand. And we have donors who are always ready to help. Yes, it’s really a community effort.”
Huang does not see an immediate eradication of the homeless problem in Pasadena.
“We have so much work left to do. At our last homeless count in January, we’ve identified 530 homeless individuals. That’s down from 1,216 five years earlier, a tremendous reduction. But 530 people in 23 square miles, which is what Pasadena is, is way too many homeless people,” Huang said. “We’re not feeling like we have finished our work by any means.”