By Mary Frances Gurton
Pasadena – About two-thirds of Pasadena’s homeless people are categorized as mentally ill, but at Passageways, a portal to the city’s well-organized network of social services, even those in the rockiest circumstances can find a smoother transition toward getting help.
“Passageways is the Ellis Island for services in Pasadena,” said Larry Johnson, director of program services at Union Station Foundation, which oversees the agency. “We determine the needs of a recipient and start them off.”
Passageways, which provides services to anyone who is homeless, brings together a number of local agencies to provide aid to the most difficult-to-serve segment of the population.
The mental illnesses of many who are homeless are chronic, often combined with long-term substance abuse.
For a short time after its inception in 1996, Passageways was logging 1,400 client visits and was providing more than 150 new clients with services each month, according to Union Station Foundation’s Web site.
Not everyone believes they want or need such help. But “for those who want to accept services and are capable of accepting services, there are definitely effective services available,” said Johnson.
In a report issued by the city of Pasadena earlier this year, experts estimated about 1,100 people were homeless in the city on a given night.
Of that number, one-third are mentally ill and another third exhibit characteristics of mental illness, but sometimes such signs can be brought about by substance abuse.
“When drugs and alcohol are involved, the symptoms of that and the mental illness mask each other,” Johnson said. “Until a person is sober, it’s hard to get an accurate diagnosis.”
On a recent warm afternoon, an episode of “Reba” blared from the TV in the waiting room at the agency located at 1020 S. Arroyo Parkway.
A man sat sleeping in one of the plastic-covered arm chairs, while another quietly read from a magazine.
The smell of rubbing alcohol permeated the room, giving the lobby the air of a doctor’s office.
“Pacific Clinic is on-site,” said Clarence Pulliam, the clinical supervisor. “They provide all the mental health services. We assess [a patient’s] condition here to determine if they are stable, if they need treatment or possibly to return to a psychiatric hospital. They might be coming right from a hospital.”
Besides offering mental health services, the agency helps recipients find jobs, provides temporary shelter and tries to find permanent housing for clients. But in some cases, the rise in the cost of living, which has spiked with the city’s gentrification of Old Pasadena and other neighborhoods, is at the root of homelessness, especially those with mental illness.
“Ten years ago there was a good stock of housing [in Pasadena] that people could afford,” said Johnson. “But the mentally ill, who often receive a monthly [Social Security] check of around $840, have fewer coping skills and more easily wind up on the street.”
Such recipients are often placed in cities such as Lancaster or Victorville with lower costs of living, said Johnson.
According to Pulliam, the number of homeless mentally ill stabilized this year and is even going lower.
“I attribute it to the way we’re doing case management,” he said. “We are able to keep them in long-term housing and try to get them employed.”