Shelter Helps Homeless to Become Self-Reliant

Los Angeles Times

By Daniela Perdomo
Times Staff Writer

Harvey Callier started using heroin when he was 15. The habit. and the criminal activity that stemmed from it landed him in prison for terms totaling 23 years. In 1992, at 51. he was dedicated to repairing his life, but an unexpected $180,000 inheritance threw that prospect out the window.

By 1994, “every dope dealer in the world had my money, “Callier said recently. When he had neither money nor a roof over his head. the Union station Foundation in Pasadena took him In and set him on a drug-free path. Now 66, Callier is a certified substance-abuse counselor and case manager at the same shelter where he once spent live months upstairs putting his life back together.

The foundation, named after the original storefront hospitality center on Union Street, is the largest social-service agency serving homeless and low-income people In the West San Gabriel Valley and will celebrate its 35th anniversary this year. The 55 full-time staffers are aided by 1,000 people who volunteer 35,000 hours each year. Union station serves 155,000 meals and provides nighttime shelter to homeless people. 38,700 times each year.

Marvin Gross, executive director for the last 13 years, called Union station’s work essential, “particularly in a society that has so much.”

According to a report by the Shelter Partnership, a nonprofit that serves homeless individuals and families, Los Angeles County has the largest homeless population In the nation, with about 90,000 homeless people on any given night. Of that number, 54,000 are thought to be women and children.

Countywide, the report says, there Is one bed for every live people who need one, and In the San Gabriel Valley, there is only one for every 10 in need.

Only a few blocks from Union station’s administrative offices on East Orange Grove Boulevard, a man stood near the 134 Freeway off ramp on a recent morning with a sign reading “Homeless and hungry.” A city count puts the number of homeless people in Pasadena at 969.

Gross said he recognizes that Union Station, which focuses on rehabilitating homeless adults and families until they can sustain themselves, can’t help everyone. Most of the people who seek help tram the foundation, he said, are relatively young and have ties to the San Gabriel Valley.

Many of Union Station’s residents have histories of prison time, domestic abuse, mental illness and substance abuse. Families, who live in separate shelters from single adults, are often homeless because of what Gross calls “economic dislocation.”

Programs are mandatory for those who need them, and the shelter’s intensive job training and counseling that takes clients’ interests into consideration pave the way to financial independence. (A recent graduate spoke of her love for cars and now works, he said, at a nearby Jiffy Lube.) According to Gross, about 70% of those who complete the job-training program find employment.

Mike Santana, 38, spent seven months at the Union Station’s adult shelter after his alcohol and drug addictions led him to a two-year stretch of homelessness and estrangement from his son. A fellow resident connected him with a job in construction, in which he had experience, but Santana soon discovered a new passion.

“Going through the recovery process, I realized I liked talking to people .and seeing them become inspired,” Santana said. He is now a security guard at the shelter where he once lived.

At Union Station’s annual holiday party – a special version of the nine rounds of daily meals served to people who don’t live in the foundation’s shelters – men, women and children lined up for steamed vegetables and chicken bechamel served by the foundation’s staff. As Santana managed the line outside, Callier sat in his office looking out the window at the hungry guests huddled in the drizzling rain.

Among case managers. Callier said, there is a saying that a recovering addict and homeless person has the opportunity to experience two lives in one lifetime. He knows first hand: “When I got here, led the life of a crook. I like to say I was born here at Union Station.”

Santana said being at the shelter helps people get organized and make plans to leave that harder life behind: “You have a bed and food, so you focus on the important things.”

In his own experience, at least, this rings true. After years of not speaking with his 14-yearold son, Santana says they have a renewed relationship.

“He told me, ‘Dad, if you lose your job again, will your life be unstable again?’ I said, ‘No, it’s not about my job anymore. It’s about the choices I make. ‘I’d have the tools I need to get a new job and stay on track,” he said, before going back to his work.

The Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign donated $25,000 to the Union Station Foundation in 2007.

The annual fundraising campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which this year will match the first $500,000 in contributions at 50 cents on the dollar.

Donations are tax-deductible. For more information, call (213) 237-5771.

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