Union Station Provides Hope for the Homeless-Both Inside and Out

San Marino Tribune

By Winston Chua
Tribune Staff Writer

In October the foundation renovated a 20-bed dormitory in their Adult Center for single women. Because the demand for beds was so high, the beds filled quickly. The male and female blocks of the compound, which are located on the building’s upper floors, now sit perpendicular to each other-the total bed count is now 56. This expansion of the Raymond Avenue facility will enable more women to receive basic services and become self-sustaining.

The dormitory is just one of the recent developments to the site. Other parts of the complex have been renovated too, according to Jean Barnes, who works with the foundation. She said that the entrance has been relocated and the now bright, spacious common room has been refurbished.

With the staggering economy, the refurbished foundation serves as one of the few bright spots for residents.

As the economy weakens, more may lose their homes because of foreclosure. The economic downturn means more homeless people may be on the streets.

“The rising cost of housing pushes a lot of single mothers out to the street. A lot of them live month-to-month so any expenses or being laid off from a job might result in losing housing,” said Dana Bean, a spokeswoman for the foundation.

Rabbi Marvin Gross, executive director of Union Station Foundation for more than 13 years, said the number of women and children without homes has been rising. Still, he is thankful for the completed construction. Over the past decade, the homeless count in the Pasadena area has hovered at around one thousand.

Gross, 60, who has lived in the greater Pasadena area for more than 30 years, said finding a shelter for the homeless is just half the battle. “Our mission is to work with individuals and families to help them rebuild their lives and end homelessness.”

One way of equipping is to help find families affordable housing. Through their Family Center, which opened in 2003, the foundation provides individual families with the resources they need to find housing.

The foundation provides a 50-bed center that today shelters 15 families. Families in the past have stayed there roughly three months before finding stable housing and social services.

Housing is just one item in a holistic recipe Gross believes helps to rebuild lives. The foundation provides services which enable people to receive income, establish life skills and survive on their own. They also provide insights into health issues, school enrollment, psychological services, parenting, nutrition services, job preparation and career development. The also recognize that a key component of their work is to provide services to the mentally ill.

Case managers for the foundation’s residents provide rehabilitation courses and help provide the groundwork for long-term employment and affordable housing. One hundred and twenty-five people enrolled in what is known as the foundation’s SOURCES program, which helps people identify with the skills they already have to help them get jobs. Claire Weiss, a case manager who works closely with SOURCES, said that 80 percent of enrollees who did not have jobs were able to find jobs through the program.

Weiss said SOURCES is an intensive program that works not only to help people with resumes and employment logistics, but also to determine what work environments would best suit a particular person. Weiss and others analyze a person’s innate gifts and abilities to pinpoint which jobs would work best and prevent relapse. They simulate real-world situations in the workplace and gauge a client’s responses to match employment suitability. Clients are able to make noticeable progress with the help and accountability of their case workers.

Although SOURCES provides a high percentage of enrollees employment, some people choose to pursue their employment independently. Weiss said that once someone chooses to leave the site, he or she cannot return to the compound for one year. This hard-and-fast rule is designed to prevent people from leaving prematurely and from taking advantage of the foundation. Both staff and residents work to map out a course of action that is based on financial stability, resourcefulness and security. For those who are not ready to leave, the foundation provides three meals a day to its residents. It houses around 150 people and offers countless meals to people inside and outside its walls. In total Gross estimates that more than 150,000 meals are served there each year.

The foundation will be holding a benefit golf tournament as a fundraiser at the Brookside Golf Course Park near the Rose Bowl on May 19. Volunteers are encouraged to participate. Other volunteer opportunities include preparing or serving meals, administration, legal or other professional services. Others help to find affordable housing. Volunteers in the past have also contributed beauty products and glasses. Since his youth, Gross has always believed in social action and community service as a way to participate in the community and serve others. He has found his 13-year stint at the foundation rewarding. Each of his three children also works for non-profit organizations.

Gross receives the most satisfaction from his work when he sees people rebuilding their lives through employment or when they begin to take care of themselves in a dignified way. He sees their self-determination as rewarding.

Although the union Station is located in Pasadena, the services provided by the foundation are not limited to Pasadena residents. He stressed that the foundation is designed for those who wish to take advantage of its services.

The Union Station Foundation began in 1973 as a little storefront in an impoverished Old Pasadena long before the Old Pasadena that is known today. It began when six women from All Saints Church volunteered to help the homeless and senior citizens on the street. There, they provided a haven for the afflicted to be treated with respect. Today the foundation continues to receive moral and volunteer support from religious and non-religious organizations. While his organization is doing its best to tackle the homeless problem, Gross knows that the homeless population will continue to face challenges.

“We’ll always do everything we can to help the people who come through our doors, but the sad fact of the San Gabriel Valley is that there is one bed for every 10 homeless people. There are more people in need of services in San Gabriel Valley than just about anywhere in Los Angeles County.”

Gross and the foundation do not work for a particular religious congregation or denomination. But as to his involvement with the underserved, Gross said, “This is my ministry.”

Connect Online: