District 2 City Council Candidate and former Pasadena Mayor Rick Cole moderated a compelling and insightful panel discussion on street homelessness Wednesday evening in the Arroyo Repertory Theatre at St. James United Methodist Church.
The event, though produced by the Cole campaign, was not a political endorsement by the church or the theater.
“This is not a political event, and it is not about who to vote for,” Cole said. “This is about us as a community talking about the most important issues facing our community, and none, in my view, is more important than the issue of homelessness.”
Featured on the panel were Anne Miskey, CEO of Union Station Homeless Services; Amara Ononiwu, Chair of Faith Community Committee, Pasadena Partnership; Dr. Joe Colletti, CEO, Hub for Urban Initiatives, and Lt. Erika Aklufi, former HOPE Team leader, for the Santa Monica Police Department.
Pasadena reported an increase in its homeless count for the first time since 2019, according to a report released in June.
Volunteers counted 556 people experiencing homelessness, up from 512 people in last year’s count
People experiencing homelessness for the first time in Pasadena increased from 9% to 14% of the count, seniors made up 14% of the count last year, but now account for 18%. Veterans increased from 7% to 11% and 10% of the people counted identified as LGBTQ+, up from 7%.
Pasadena is its own “Continuum of Care,” a Federal designation for networks within a city or community that are designed to use data for community-wide planning and strategic use of resources.
Using the data can allow a city to tailor its service for more pinpoint support of various groups within the homeless population, such as men, women, children, families, the mentally ill, and in some cases, the terminally ill.
“Almost every cliche that you have ever heard about homelessness is true,” said Cole. “There are Vietnam war vets with PTSD on the streets, there are drug and alcohol addicted individuals out on our streets, there are families that have hit a rough economic patch.
“For every person on the street, there is an individual story,” he added, “and sometimes the biggest mistake we make is characterizing them all, on the most visible folks that we see out on our street.”
Each of the panelists in the wide-ranging, two-hour discussion offered insights from their own experiences on various sides of the homelessness issue.
According to Miskey pointed out that the solutions for various groups of homelessness are all different. She took issue, for example, with the idea that there is a great need for specialized or group homes.
“That is actually a very small percentage of the population that needs that level of care,” she said. “The perception is that there are way more people who need that kind of care than is actually the fact.
Most of the 5,000 people that Union Station has secured housing for over the last five years live in their own individual apartments, Miskey said.
“What most people need is stability,” she continued, “and they do need a home. But what we have found is that the vast majority of people do very well in their own apartments.
Mostly we just need healthy, safe housing of any kind,” she said, “and then a small percentage of boarding care-type homes.”
Colletti took an almost academic but street-level approach to the issue.
“Facts are data. Gone are the days when we have had to discuss this issue with only anecdotal evidence and circumstantial information. Nowadays, we can rely on data which will reveal what we are doing well, and what we are not doing well. The accuracy of anecdotal, subjective and circumstantial information can now be checked by data. Data helps match persons to the right programs and beds,” said Colletti.
Cole concluded by calling homelessness “a very important emergency.”
“Ending street homelessness is something we have to do and something we can do as a community in Pasadena.”