Why Pasadena outranked 32 major U.S. cities in reducing homelessness (Pasadena Star-News)

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Pasadena reduced its homeless population by nearly 54 percent between 2009 and 2016, the highest percentage among 32 large cities studied by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, according to a report from the organization.

Pasadena had the largest percent decreases in total homelessness and in the amount of homeless families, the study reported. The city counted 1,216 as homeless in 2011, but only 530 in 2016. Officials in the Housing and Career Services Department say three times as many people would be homeless today if the city had ignored the problem.

“We’ve been focusing on expanding our efforts for homeless prevention and permanent supportive housing, and that has been bearing good results,” said William Huang, Pasadena’s director of housing. “But there is still a lot more work to do.”

The city has helped house hundreds of people in the past few years, through rental subsidy vouchers and building permanent supportive housing.

Marv’s Place, a 20-unit apartment complex built in partnership with Union Station Homeless Services, opened earlier this year after years of fighting for funding.

“That project has 62 people living in it — 62 people who are no longer homeless, including 36 children,” Huang said. “This is what ends homelessness.”

A change in policy in 2011 has helped reduce homelessness by shifting the city into a more proactive role, Huang said. The city previously operated an intake center where the homeless could come to get help but that method hinged on someone seeking assistance. Now, outreach teams make contact with homeless individuals daily in an attempt to build trust so they are more likely to use the city’s resources. It can take months of contacts before someone comes around to accepting help, Huang said.

The city is closely watching ballot measures to increase funding for homelessness in Los Angeles and L.A. County because the fight is a regional one, not something Pasadena can solve alone, Huang said.

“The better L.A. does and the better L.A. County does, the better Pasadena will do,” Huang said.

Despite the decline, Pasadena has a homeless rate of 37.3 per 10,000 people, nearly double the national rate of 16.9 per 10,000. Many of those who remain are chronically homeless — a category Pasadena saw an increase in last year — and are resistant to services.

Pasadena enacted more aggressive panhandling ordinances this year, including a law that makes it easier for the city to confiscate belongings left in public spaces. Advocates say these new laws criminalize the homeless, but city officials argue they are trying to prevent intimidation and blocked right-of-ways.

The report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors and National Alliance to End Homelessness analyzed data from 32 cities across 24 states. Cities included New York, Washington, D.C., Long Beach, Lincoln, Wichita, Austin, Atlanta, Chicago and others. The selected cities represent 32 percent of the more than 544,000 people experiencing homelessness in the nation.

Two-thirds of the cities saw decreases between 2009 and 2016. Long Beach, for example, saw a reduction of 1,659 people or 43 percent, while other cities like Los Angeles, Wichita, Honolulu and Washington D.C. experienced double digit increases in the same time frame.

Though Los Angeles had an overall increase, it was less than 15 percent and in some subcategories, homelessness was on the decline, according to Chris Ko, director of systems and innovation for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

The cities are interconnected with the light rail, but Pasadena’s reduction isn’t directly related to Los Angeles’ increase, Ko said. New counting methods, rather than people migrating from Pasadena or Long Beach, are more likely to blame for the uptick.

“This is not an accident, this is the result of intentional choices that Pasadena has made,” Ko said. “You’re starting to see some of the things that Pasadena did five years ago finally come to fruition,”

United Way partners with Pasadena and other cities on programs for the homeless. Ko said the success seen in Pasadena is in part because the city is aggressive in pursuing funding and innovation with the proceeds. An abundance of private organizations, like Union Station Homeless Services, help further the city’s goals.

Still, Pasadena must stay vigilant if it wants the progress to continue, Ko warned. Other cities, such as Denver, have seen reductions only to backslide in later years because of changes in politics that favored enforcement over assistance.

“We’ve seen this go backwards,” Ko said. “We’re all hoping for Pasadena to continue showing leadership.”

 
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