John is a big man with a big smile and a bigger heart. His presence is woven into the fabric and feeling of community at Centennial Place, where he has lived since 2003. He’ll tell you he’s a changed man, and he’s referring to years of stops and starts, failures and victories.

John says he was once a very angry young man, full of bitterness at his own shortcomings. He admits to a youth full of wrong turns and bad judgment. Drugs and alcohol helped him mask feelings of inadequacy for a long time. By age 33, he was alone and living in his car. Though he tried to stop drinking, he discovered that sobriety alone wasn’t the answer. John knew that to rebuild his life, he needed support to learn basic life skills.

John found just that at Union Station’s Adult Center, where he worked with a case manager to end his cycle of homelessness and build a life of dignity and sobriety. From there he was referred to Centennial Place, the old YMCA building on Holly. Renovated by Abode Communities to be one of the first SROs (single room occupancy) in Pasadena, Centennial Place has provided affordable, permanent housing to hundreds of people. But providing affordable housing is only the first step, albeit a crucial one, to a complete life. Many residents, like John, still needed the wrap-around support and help with life skills.

In 2010, Union Station saw an opportunity to provide supportive services for Centennial Place residents and we jumped at the chance. The facility has three on-site case managers who are dedicated to connecting residents with community resources such as medical and mental health services, job search assistance, food and clothing assistance, and transportation. The first floor common areas include a computer lab, and a recreation room with ping-pong and foosball tables as well as other games. Life skills classes and 12-step meetings are help in the gymnasium. The staff regularly organizes events and activities to bring residents together and build community.

“The difference is like night and day since Union Station’s case managers got here,” says John. “We’ve had holiday parties and ice cream socials. My wife, who also lives at Centennial Place, loves to go to all the art classes.”

At Union Station we have found that when willingness meets opportunity, lives are changed for the better. “Before, this was a place to live,” says John. “Now it’s cheerful and friendly. When I leave work, I don’t just come to a room – I come home.

As we start the new year, we celebrate the new life that John has built for himself and the new community being fostered at Centennial Place.


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