Study Shows Homeless Shelters Inadequate: Area Failing to Cope with Growing Problem

Pasadena Star-News

By Christina L. Esparaza

The San Gabriel Valley is the worst equipped region in the county to deal with homelessness, according to a study discussed Wednesday by the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

Of eight service planning areas, the Valley ranks third in total number of homeless, but last in terms of emergency shelters, according to the study highlighted at a conference at the Courtyard Marriot in Baldwin Park. With 29,000 homeless, the region-which stretches from Pasadena to Pomona-is equipped with only 216 shelter beds.

In contrast, West Los Angeles, which has fewest homeless at 5,000, has 1,188 shelter beds.

“The only thing people want less than a homeless facility is a toxic-waste facility,” said Mitchell Netburn, executive director for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Also, an alarming number of those homeless are children, Netburn said.

“Many of the resources have gone to single people,” Netburn said. “One of the trends include homeless families…It’s become way too common.”

Thirty-nine percent of the homeless in the Valley are children 17 or younger, according to the study.

Jan Cicco, chairwoman of the East San Gabriel Valley Coalition for the Homeless, said the study may not include bed counts for shelters that are tailored for a specific sect of homeless, such as those leaving a domestic violence situation.

The coalition, she said, is very active in dealing with the homeless issue, and is in the process of bringing an emergency shelter to the East San Gabriel Valley.

The coalition brings together nonprofit agencies and city officials to find ways to eradicate the problem. However, one of its biggest problems is getting cities to get over the “not in my backyard” mentality.

“There are people who get frustrated with the homeless issue,” Cicco said. “I would just like people to recognize this could be dealt with; it is solvable. If we can send a man to the moon, we could overcome this homeless problem. It’s worth the effort. It’s worth the time.”

Paul Phillips, city manager for Covina-which expects soon to receive a grant for its first transitional housing unit-said the Valley has been virtually overlooked by county officials with regard to homeless issues.

The Valley “has been underfunded for quite a long time,” Phillips said.

Shirley Abrams, the homeless consultant for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, said the Valley’s biggest problem is the fact there are a lot of cities and its officials don’t band together to address homelessness.

Also, most officials in most cities in the region tend to shuttle homeless outside the area.

“They don’t address the problem in their own area,” Abrams said. “They’re referring [people] to someplace else.”

The only full-time shelters in the San Gabriel Valley are in Pasadena and Pomona.

However, the Coalition for Homeless is looking to remedy that, Phillips said.

Phillips said the coalition shows county authorities the Valley is taking a regional-rather than individual-approach to homelessness.

Many advocates said the biggest challenge facing homeless families in the region are transportation, motel-living and racism.

Gil Nelson with the Union Station Foundation in Pasadena-the largest food and shelter provider for the homeless in the San Gabriel Valley-said he has run into many property owners who won’t rent to someone with a thick accent because they fear they won’t be good tenants.

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