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My Fear Of Being Homeless

Single Moms of South Pas columnist Carla Sameth ponders where the homeless are in South Pasadena and realizes that, fortunately, she will probably never be one of them.

One of my greatest fears has always been growing old poor and alone. I’m not sure why. But I’ve talked to other women who share this fear of poverty and homelessness even when it seems unlikely.

... I once fell completely in love with someone when he told me, “I’d like to grow old with you.”     

Perhaps my fear began with a statistic. I once heard that the majority of women living on the street got there due to divorce, domestic violence, or mental illness.

I am fairly certain that I’m not mentally ill, but I have two divorces under my belt, as well as experience—both personally and professionally—dealing with family violence.  

My Story

After my second marriage, I lost everything that constituted a safety net: a chance to pay for my son’s college or afford to retire before age 99. I was lucky enough to have accrued equity through a hard-fought purchase of a small house, but I took it all out to go into what was to be our family home.

On different occasions, I treated my business and home as one big kibbutz, but I discovered that not everyone here lives by: “give what you can, and take what you need.”

In our intended family home—the “big house”—I poured my heart and remaining equity into remodeling. I learned what it was like to feel enfranchised enough to have a completely new kitchen; a master bedroom with Jacuzzi bathroom; a deck big enough to look down onto a tropical, almost foreign-looking landscape—the hills of Glassell Park; soothing green-tea colors; and a built-in vanity-type desk. 

We dragged the kids to various tile stores. The first real purchase I made—long before the remodel started—was the mosaic from Mexico with the village scene. I imagined cooking and looking up at this folkloric view of villagers, countryside, a little church, and children playing—much like those in my little blended household, which of course would have a mezuzah on the door.

Most of the time that I look back, I think, “Why did we need all that?”

Of course, that is with the knowledge of all that was lost. 

California Stats 

California, with all its resources, ranks almost rock-bottom in terms of sheltering our children—at 46 out of the 50—in the study, “America’s Youngest Outcasts, 2010” (State Report on Child Homelessness put out by National Center on Family Homelessness).  

It also cites key statistics on homeless mothers: Over 92 percent of homeless mothers have experienced severe physical and/or sexual abuse during their lifetime. And 63 percent of them report that the abuse was perpetrated by an intimate partner.

The same 2010 study reports that more than 1.6 million children are homeless in America: One in 45 children (National Center for Homeless Education 2011). Also, 79.6 percent of homeless adult women are in a family, compared to just 20.4 percent of homeless adult men (Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress 2007).

Are There Homeless People In South Pas? 

Recently I began to wonder: “Where are the homeless in South Pasadena?” I haven’t seen people sleeping in front of the library or , or asking for money by the freeway—as we do in other local communities.  

Are there kids living in cars who somehow make it to school, but who have no place to sleep well or to shower? No real residence where they can study? Have they been exported to other cities?

In Long Beach, I recently learned that homeless are sent away during the Annual Grand Prix to keep the city tidy and free of “clutter” for visitors (“Homeless Long Beach – Out of Site, Out of Mind” by Living Long Beach).

I never take my home for granted. I recently lamented on Facebook that I missed having new kitchen cabinets. I was staring with bitterness at my grimy old apartment-grade metal drawers, feeling that I’d never get to remodel a kitchen. As soon as I wrote it on my wall, I realized how wrong it was. I’m lucky to have drawers to open, a refrigerator I can still fill, and people I can call upon to fill it, should I fall short. I am not homeless.

We live in a complex where some neighbors would feed and clothe us, and often we do that for each other when we have meals we can’t finish, food we won’t get to, and clothes that no longer fit. 

While pondering the questions, “Where are the homeless in South Pas?” and “Why do some of us retain that irrational fear of becoming homeless?” I realized how unlikely that possibility is for my son and me.   

The Power of Family

I have discovered the power of family pulling together for whatever crisis or simcha arises—weddings, funerals, heartbreak, and ailing parents. We’ve supported each other through life transitions: pregnancy loss, childbirth, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, home purchase, and death. 

I recently called a “family meeting”—a “gentle intervention”—to address my son’s challenges in school, and I was reminded of how much my family has stuck by me. My brother, sister, my brother-in-law (who was my camp counselor at 16 and later met my sister on kibbutz), Gabe’s dad, and Gabe’s dad’s girlfriend were all present. They proposed a calendar on which the adults would sign up for times to be with my son while he studied.

Speaking of family, my older sister, Jane, reminded me, "It seems a good time to ponder those of us with and those of us without,” referring to Passover.

We tell the story of wandering 40 years through the desert. We once were slaves, and now we’re free, but so many in the world aren’t. So many are wandering without shelter or “manna from heaven” or basic healthcare or human rights. An obvious connection to the theme of this column,  Jane commented: “Those of us with, must do whatever we can to help those without. It is (or should be) a moral imperative.”

Getting Involved

To find out more about the “Affordable Housing Crisis in Pasadena” and what we can do, please come to the upcoming event at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 18 in the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center’s Galpert Sanctuary, 1434 North Altadena Drive, Pasadena.

An expert panel will examine the issues and controversies surrounding affordable housing and how it relates to homelessness. The discussion is open to the public, and a reception will follow. The event is co-sponsored by the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center Tikkun Olam (Hebrew for “repairing the world”) Committee and Greater Pasadena Jews for Justice.

Local resources for homeless in the South Pasadena area include: . Check out the attached video to see Holy Family Giving Bank sharing food for the holidays. 

Those in need can also call 211 for local resources—food, shelter, etc.

Eva Brune April 05, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Leaves me counting my blessings...nice piece!
spidra April 06, 2012 at 06:39 AM
I don't know if they have roots in South Pasadena, but I have certainly seen homeless people in South Pasadena as I take nearly daily walks through town. I've seen them walking and I've seen them sleeping in Garfield Park. I don't see people pushing commandeered shopping carts, but I see them packing light through So Pas. I see signs I've learned to recognize. There are more reasons that addiction or domestic abuse that could make one homeless. We're in the worst economic period this country has seen since The Great Depression. Even before the crash, a lot of people were living paycheck to paycheck. People are being thrown out of their homes. It's not "irrational" for a lot of people to fear homelessness. I fear it and I never thought I'd have to. All it takes is disability, major medical expenses, a thin social network... It really doesn't take that much before you'd end up on the street. I don't think we see a lot of homeless in South Pasadena because So Pas is a small enough city that neighbors call the police if they see anything unusual and it's a small enough town that loitering, no parking between 2am-6am, and other laws that would make it tough on people who can't afford to own or rent property will be enforced.
Carla Sameth April 06, 2012 at 06:11 PM
Hello Spidra, Thanks so much for your comments - totally agree. I hope to come back with more information in a column about how the city "handles" it's homeless. As you so accurately express it - living in the "worst economic time since the Great Depression"- puts a whole new group of people on the edge, which is exactly the conversation I think we need to have at the April 18th expert panel on housing. The fact that many, many people have this fear and in particular, this time, are only a job loss, injury or medical injury away. It makes us understand what the previous generations went through during the depression and rethink our attitudes about needs vs. wants. I have been fortunate, in addition to a strong support system, I've been able to support my family very well most of the time through my (PR) business and have found employment since about age 12. These times are different though...and we have to remember that the 99% includes most of us. One of the pieces of feedback I've heard from service providers I've interviewed and also from our Rabbi, is that many people who are suffering are reluctant to come forward due to shame and in some cases not even knowing how/where to access the few resources there are out there for them. Hopefully by speaking out, more people will see that they are not alone and those of us who can will step up to the plate.
Estelle Underwood April 09, 2012 at 04:02 AM
Carla, this is one of the most beautiful articles I have read. It is so poignant...so honest...so real. I really appreciate the courage it takes to write something that so many of us have felt/thought at one time or another. Thanks for the reminder to be grateful for what is in my life, and to look for ways to be of service. This is awesome.
Claude Mussleman April 10, 2012 at 04:11 PM
I have seen people sleeping on the benches outside the library at night lots of times. Also around Garfield Park. Other close local parks (mostly west of SP) have permanent homeless residents.
Kristen Lepore (Editor) April 10, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Check back this week for Carla's follow-up on homelessness in South Pas. She plans to speak with people around town from librarians to police officers. If you've got something to add to the story, e-mail her at carla@sameth.com
marty c April 12, 2012 at 05:23 PM
visable homelessness is in downtown la and the less affluent communities.
Kristen Lepore (Editor) April 18, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Check out Carla's follow-up column today on homelessness: http://patch.com/A-s3X3 Also, 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).
Kristen Lepore (Editor) 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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