PASADENA >> Winter weather has begun to descend on the Southland, meaning freezing, and possibly deadly, overnight temperatures for the more than 40,000 people sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles County.
And this year, at least for many of the 772 homeless people in Pasadena, finding a warm place to stay the night is going to be more difficult. The city’s only emergency Bad Weather Shelter, operated by nonprofit Friends in Deed, has seen its funding cut in half, meaning it will be open fewer days this year and will be accepting fewer people.
“It costs $120,000 to have it open the way we have in the past, and this year we only have $60,000,” Friends in Deed board member Jackie Knowles said. “We just haven’t been able to get enough donations. … It leaves a lot of people in the lurch.”
The shelter was founded by Friends in Deed in 1986 “after a man died on a park bench in Pasadena and people said that’s not right,” Knowles said. This year, rather than being open for three months straight, the shelter will open only when the overnight temperature is expected to drop below 40 degrees or there is a 40 percent chance of rain. The official opening is Friday. The shelter will be available until March 15. The family shelter will be completely closed this year.
The cut in funding for the shelter, from the federal, state and city level, comes from an overall shift in “best practices” for homeless services, said Anne Lansing, of the Pasadena Housing Department. Rather than put funding toward emergency shelters, which are only a temporary solution, agencies — and the Department of Housing and Urban Development — are focusing more on permanent housing and homeless prevention.
“It’s more cost effective and it’s a much more generally effective approach to directly house people who are homeless,” Lansing said. “Particularly chronically homeless who have had long periods of homelessness, generally that happens because they have difficulty with the structure of emergency shelters or transitional housing, but they can do well when they are housed with services provided to them in that housing. Studies have shown time after time that that’s the best approach.”
Funds go toward services like motel vouchers, rent subsidies and family resources, Lansing said, and for more than 95 percent of those who are permanently housed, it works. But, she added, the problem is there still isn’t enough funding to help everyone.
The Pasadena City Council this week passed an ordinance to allow more areas zoned for small emergency shelters. But Lansing said because funding sources are steering away from shelters and toward affordable housing options, the ordinance will likely do little else than satisfy the state mandate that required the city to pass it in order to fill a need for 89 beds for the city’s homeless.
“The reality is that this shift in focus doesn’t come with additional resources,” she said. “What the resource providers are instead saying is you have these limited resources and each jurisdiction needs to look at what is the best way to use them. It isn’t the end-all answer, there is still a shortage of resources, there is still a shortage in funding for affordable housing.”
But not all emergency shelters are experiencing quite the same funding shortage.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority also offers its own Winter Shelter Program from Dec. 1 to March 14. There are 1,491 beds at 13 sites throughout the county. Individuals and families who need help can call into the 2-1-1 phone system and will be directed to an appropriate shelter or program, and the shelters also serve as a gateway into other social services.
“There are thousands of men, women and children that need a warm break from the increased risk that comes with cold and wet winter weather,” LAHSA spokesman George McQuade said. “We don’t want people to die on the sidewalks.”
And in Pasadena, there are some other options for those who can no longer count on the Bad Weather Shelter. On the days the Bad Weather Shelter is open, outreach workers from the city’s Passageways homeless services program also work to assess the need of each person that walks through the door and try to connect them to permanent housing and other services.
In addition, nonprofit Union Station Homeless Services offers a limited number of emergency beds for individuals and families, as well as a Family Resources Center, funded by LAHSA, in Duarte. Local churches and other nonprofits also offer shelter options for the area homeless.
“There will, sadly, I believe probably be people who are underserved by this shift in service model (away from shelters), but I’m going to suggest that there have always been people who have sadly been underserved,” Union Station Chief Programs Officer Gregg von Fempe said. “There is a potential that there will always be a need for emergency shelters … but people don’t want to be in the business of managing homelessness, they want to be in the business of ending homelessness.”