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Learning From Those Willing To Speak Out

Former Trader Joe's employee and South Pasadenean shares his story on being homeless.

The main thing to know about Jason Williams is what he has tell us, that he could be the future or previous generation of anyone’s family here. 

His grandmother owned a Flower Shop and was the Grand Marshal and “Chairman of the Board” for the July 4 Parade.

Williams was featured last year in Union Station Homeless Service’s Annual Report.  

There is much more to Williams' story and his experience with homelessness but here are a few points we can learn from Jason:

  • “It could happen to anyone: not just disabled vets and the mentally ill, but virtually anyone. I never thought I’d be homeless… never thought I’d have to do that.” Williams' case, he said, was culmination of factors and life events that included “making wrong choices,” addiction issues, and losing his mother and grandmother in a short time span without dealing with his feelings surrounding their deaths.  He was born and raised in South Pasadena, and for many years he worked close to home at the local Trader Joe's
  • “It could happen to anybody. I didn’t choose it; it wasn’t my plan… never saw it coming, but it did. It could happen to you. I didn’t think it would happen to me. I promised myself I’d never be in that position again, and I’d never let anyone I know be there; if I could help someone, I would." Hence his willingness to go public with his story when asked.
  • Williams has left Union Station, found work, and is living in a house. “There is plenty of work out there, plenty of work to be done,” he told me. But he believes the employers are afraid to hire in this economy—afraid that they might not be able to pay or might hurt their margin. I found that really interesting. Actually, a lot of what he said I could relate to—I’m one of those business owners, and I do like to keep “my team” working whenever possible.
  • You need somewhere to start from when you are homeless: “Union Station was like a base camp; it allowed me to get back to where I was…” He pointed out the difficulty of getting ahead without it: “How can you save money if you have to spend your money on shelter?”
  • “Play out the range of homelessness—the degrees—not just the ‘street person’ (which he wasn’t), but the whole range.” As Williams explained, “Those living in Union Station are homeless.” And, as my son pointed out, those living in a car are one step up from the street.

Indeed, those living in temporary housing or multi-family housing (i.e., with relatives or friends on the sofa or floor) can all be found in our community.

Perhaps Williams' most powerful message is that “many homeless don’t even know that they have options. You’re not screwed if you are homeless; you just need to know that there are places you can go.”  

For him, it was the local Salvation Army treatment program and the Union Station Homeless Services. Now he’s willing to reach out a hand to help whoever he can.  

Find out what your neighbor needs. Is there a family or someone struggling—without a safety net—who you might be able to help in some way?

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