By Lisa Vandergriff
Driving to work, school, errands or kids’ activities, chances are you’ve grown accustomed to the familiar faces of Pasadena’s homeless. Your child may wonder why “that lady” is always at the freeway entrance while you take a guess at the circumstances that bring her there day after day. Night time is another story. Far beyond the regulars we pass each day, there are more than 100 homeless in Pasadena on any given night.
For 35 years, Union Station Homeless Services has aimed to find a solution to homelessness, rather than merely providing shelter. “Instead of taking a cookie-cutter approach, we seek to find what circumstances led to homelessness and try to remedy those issues,” said Victoria Stubrin, director of development in Union Station. With the primary goal to eliminate barriers to housing, the approach is three-fold: meet, assess and remove barriers, which include mental health issues, addiction, lack of income, insufficient life skills and disabilities.
For those who’ve been displaced from family, evicted from rehab or discharged from hospitals and jails, the journey begins at Passageways, Union Station’s intake facility on Arroyo Parkway. Operated in partnership with Pacific Clinics, Passageways is the entry point, providing assessments and referrals to more than 100 new clients every month. According to Clarence Pulliam, director of intake services at Passageways, that number doesn’t even include the 300 children who come through the doors each month, dispelling the myth that homeless are mostly men.
Back in the 1970’s when two women from All Saints Church opened the doors to a new hospitality center on Union Street, the demographic was primarily men.. Today it’s the growing number of displaced women and children who make up 48% of Pasadena’s homeless population. What started as grassroots organization has become the San Gabriel Valley’s largest homeless services agency, Providing meals, shelter, health care, counseling and affordable housing recourses.
Union Station Homeless Services is probably best known for the Adult Center, a 56-bed shelter on Raymond Avenue, which last year alone served more than 150,000 meals. Or perhaps you’re familiar with the 30,000 dinners served in Central Park by an army of volunteers who wait in line to serve the homeless on Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the scope of Union Station’s services goes miles beyond holiday meals.
For those in need of shelter, the Adult Center has offered beds, meals and showers 365 days a year since the 1980s. Recourses include 12-step meetings three times a day, daily dual-diagnosis meetings covering mental health and substance abuse, and access to a mobile health unit twice a week. Individuals who are willing to commit to 90 days of rehab and set a case plan that includes regular meetings and savings goals are guaranteed one of the 56 beds, with average stays of three months.
For those seeking employment, the sources Career Development Program provides a two-week class intensive run by volunteers, covering resume writing, mock interviews, how to address resume gaps with honesty, as well as an alumni support group. In operation for 12 years, the Sources Resource Center has the tools needed to seek employment, from phone, fax, computer, Internet and email access to clothing and career counseling.
Families trying to remain together in spite of losing their homes reside at the newly renovated Family Center on Orange Grove Boulevard. With dorm-like facilities being standard fare, most shelters don’t allow two-parent families or teenage boys. This places tremendous stress on families, particularly those with small children. Union Station sees great value in keeping families together and, as a result, has successfully maintained the coed family environment, available to those who commit to putting 70% of their income into savings.
Life at the Family Center is structured with meetings, enrichment classes, children services, support groups for teens and adults, and family dinners in the large dining area that once housed a chapel. The Family Center provides three meals a day, sustained entirely by donations and volunteer groups. The Adopt-A-Meal program is run by a consortium of local volunteers who prepare and serve dinner once a week for a year or more.
With a 95% success rate at the Family Center, the next step is toward independent living. With Euclid Villa, a 14 unit affordable housing facility, Union Station Provides the necessary link to go from shelter to transitional housing. To live at Euclid Villa, participants must utilize 30% of their income to rent the apartments for up to two years. With case management support for children and enrichment classes, 100% of the tenants successfully move to permanent housing.
From Passageways to Euclid Villa, there are measured steps to be taken in order to overcome homelessness. Rather than putting a Band-aid on the issue. Union Station Homeless Services provides the necessary means to rebuild broken lives via the Adult Center, Family Center and Sources career development program, buoy the generous support and volunteerism that is a cornerstone of Pasadena’s philanthropic community.
There is Plenty of Work Ahead for Union Station
Union Station Homeless Services is gearing up for what could be their busiest season ever. With home foreclosures and unemployment at all-time highs, people accustomed to being self-sufficient are finding it impossible to make ends meet.
Pasadena resident Lyla White has seen firsthand the effect of the current economy. “Times are hard for everyone, but for those with no safety net, it’s just devastating to lose their job or have their work hours cut. Very few people are completely safe from the effects of this economy”, says White, a long time supporter of Union Station Homeless Services and current member of the agency’s Board of Directors.
According to White, Union Station’s programs are needed now more than ever. Its 50-bed Family Center and 56-bed Adult Center are frequently full, and every day the dining room is packed with patrons of the Community Meals Program, serving breakfast and lunch to anyone in need. Union Station also offers a daily shower program, case management, referrals, career counseling and job search assistance, specialized services for clients with mental illnesses and substance abuse, and life skills classes in parenting, nutrition, anger management and independent living.
“I’ve seen these programs in action and I know how effective they are”, says White. “Union Station makes the most of every donation. Every dollar is stretched as far as it can go, and then some.”
While it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the need, White stresses that everyone is capable of making a positive difference. “No gift is too small”, White said. “It only takes $5 for Union Station to provide three nutritious meals to a homeless person. Something as simple a hot meal served in a caring atmosphere can remind someone who is homeless and hurting that there is hope”.
On behalf of Union Station, White invites the community to help its clients begin to rebuild their lives, and make their transition easier by underwriting specific items. For example, $250 pays for bedding and toiletries for a family moving into their new apartment; $150 provides a month of meals for an Adult Center resident, while $50 buys new clothing for a single mother; and $25 supplies children at the Family Center with new toys and games.
For those who would like to purchase specific items and bring them to Union Station, the needs are simple.
“Next time you’re at Target, pick up a $10 gift card, baby wipes or a box of diapers is size 5 or 6”, says White. “Payless gift cars are a great way to provide individuals with shoes for school or work, and there’s always a need for men’s dress socks and belts for Sources Career Development program graduates. Flash drivers are helpful for the Sources program graduates and fresh good donations can always be dropped off at the Adult Center.
“While we tend to think of feeding homeless during the holidays, the need is there year-round”.
For more information on Union Station Homeless Services, visit www.unionstationhs.org or call (626) 240-4550.