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Homelessness: Could It Happen To You?

Many are not aware of the degrees of homelessness—or that it could happen to almost anyone.

A few weeks ago I attended a 90th birthday party for my dad’s cousin in Seattle. I was elated to hear a spirited discussion by the octogenarians about the “absolute insanity of not providing healthcare as a basic right.”

“But aren’t shelter, food and education also basic rights?” offered one.

“Well, yes, but, oh, dear, would that be considered socialism?” asked with a wry smile.

“Actually, yes, but many developed—and undeveloped—countries believe these to be basic rights.”

As one 14-year-old exchange student from Spain told me, “Oh, yes, unemployment is horrible in my country; more than 50 percent for young people.”

But, he went on to explain, “They are not afraid of becoming homeless—there is a safety net; you don’t automatically lose healthcare and the house.”

My Mission 

I wanted to find out where those in South Pas went when they ran into economic problems. Do their kids leave school?

—that many women might have of homelessness or living alone in poverty at an old age—is a harsh and real possibility for many, with the deepest recession since the Great Depression. I thank the South Pas readers for pointing this out!  

Without a safety net, most of the “99 percent” are only a medical emergency, lost job, divorce or other emergency away from one of the growing number of people living beneath the poverty line or homeless.    

After interviewing some public officials (school supervisor, police chief, principals and one formerly homeless man who grew up in a third-generation South Pasadena family), I learned a bit more about homelessness and homeless policy. 

Different Degrees 

There are degrees of homelessness. Some in South Pas may be facing one of the “degrees” of homelessness without being found on the streets or in the parks. 

Even more people are on the homelessness continuum: on the verge of losing their homes, or living with friends or family, or living in their cars.   

When my son at age 13 heard about homeless children living in downtown L.A.—who had to stumble over addicts and people sleeping on the street—he asked: “They don’t even have a car to sleep in?”  

He was impressed that they still made it to school when he wasn’t always so enthusiastic himself, even with all his advantages.

Around Town

More homeless live outdoors in South Pasadena than I knew. The Homeless Counting Project provides yearly statistics on homelessness in the area, with the latest count coming out in April. I was not able to get specific statistics for South Pasadena, but here are a few comments gathered from local resources:

“It is not against the law to be homeless unless there is another violation of law,” Chief Joe Payne told me. “Panhandling is not against the law, unless blocking the entrance to a business.” 

Chief Payne told us that, though the park is closed to homeless between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., many are camped out along the Arroyo. 

The police will post notices before they come through and do a “clean up” sweep and then they will usually move. But, he insisted: "We don’t take our homeless problem and ship it off."

There are not a lot of resources in South Pasadena “other than the kind-hearted person,” Chief Payne told me, with the exception of Holy Family's programs.

At School

“A homeless family is entitled to register at any school. Whether the family arrives homeless or becomes homeless, the school district is required to by law to enroll the students,” said School Superintendent Joel Shapiro.  

Other school officials agreed that the school might be the first line of awareness and intervention when a family with children becomes—or is about to become—homeless. 

SPUSD does not offer any specific services for the homeless, but when they become aware of homelessness, they try to offer referrals that are primarily in Pasadena. The district offers assistance in the form of more flexibility with students who may have issues such as not having a safe place to do homework.

PUSD has special program serving homeless families, Families in Transition.  According to Socorro Rocha, who works with Families in Transition at PUSD, every school district in San Gabriel has a program like this, except for La Canada and South Pasadena.  

Rocha told me that they work with students and families to make sure they have whatever they need: school supplies, clothing, immunizations, proper identification (birth certificates, et al.), and transportation to school. (To help/donate, click HERE.)

Asking for Help

School nurses, counselors, teachers, police, short-term hotels, churches and synagogues are often on the front lines when it comes to noticing families about to become homeless and offering intervention.

Many people are too embarrassed to ask for help when programs such as Families in Transitions exist in the schools; temporary housing/hotels will often call the program to tell them about a family who needs help.

To really find out about The Affordable Housing Crisis in Pasadena and its impact on homelessness in the greater Pasadena community, come to the expert panel and discussion at 7 p.m. Wednesday (tonight!) at the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center (PJTC).

See this Pasadena Weekly story on creative ways to provide affordable housing for families, seniors and low-income residents.

Check back with Patch for a profile on Jason—a South Pasadenean and former employee who became homeless. 

Patrick Lee April 18, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Thank you, Carla, for a very informative piece on a pressing issue in South Pas and around Southern California! Looking forward to more!
Rebecca Prine April 19, 2012 at 01:58 AM
"There are not a lot of resources in South Pasadena" - to be exact in number there are zero. Zero access centers for basic needs such as bathrooms, laundry, showers, meals, and shelter. Zero services in all of North East Los Angeles. Yet, over 300 chronically homeless individuals who call this area home; born here raised here live here. Join us as we work to change this: www.recycledresources.org
Kristen Lepore April 19, 2012 at 06:50 PM
More from Carla on the topic for those interested. Former Trader Joe's employee and South Pasadena resident shares his story on being homeless: http://patch.com/A-s6cD

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