City and community organize homeless outreach amidst the coronavirus

Story by Noah Kuhn
Associate News Editor 

Photo by Oscar Walsh
Photo Editor

Quarantining is now a daily reality for most in South Pasadena, however, residents without homes have found it especially difficult to find shelter and safety during the pandemic. In response, many community members and organizations have taken it upon themselves to help the homeless and others who are more susceptible to the coronavirus. 

Several South Pasadenans have organized a free grocery delivery service for seniors and other immune-compromised individuals: South Pasadena Volunteer Grocery Shoppers. There are currently about 140 registered volunteers who have made over 130 deliveries since the program started on Sunday, Mar. 22. The community-run program also provides service to single parents with young kids and families of frontline workers.

“In a world that seems to celebrate selfishness we embrace the selfless work needed to ensure that we do everything we can to keep our neighbors safe and our community strong,” founder of the South Pasadena Volunteer Grocer Shoppers Ed Donnelly said. 

Holy Family Giving Bank is also delivering groceries to people in need, on Mondays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Additionally, volunteers give out lunches to approximately 45 people Monday through Friday between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., and supply hygiene kits and clothing upon request. The giving bank primarily serves people who are experiencing homelessness in South Pasadena and the neighboring vicinity. 

Shower for Hope at Holy Family Church is a mobile showering service provided by Los Angeles County that continues to operate on Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 

Both organizations located at Holy Family Church continue to serve around the same amount of customers as they have for a number of years, but with the added social distancing safety precautions. 

The South Pasadena Police Department (SPPD) plays a large role in helping people experiencing homelessness through its Homeless Outreach Program for Education (HOPE) as well as the local police coalition, Homeless Outreach Service Team (HOST). Both efforts are funded through Measure H, which is expected to generate $3.5 billion over ten years, starting in 2018, to help fight homelessness in LA County.

Measure H also funds a housing navigator for South Pasadena who helps homeless individuals attain a driver’s license or other IDs to receive government benefits. The housing navigator is specifically stationed at Holy Family during the Shower of Hope on Wednesdays and does outreach in South Pasadena or Arcadia, which shares the 18-month position, for the rest of the week.

SPPD, in partnership with the housing navigator, has moved two people experiencing homelessness who are at high risk into hotels or motels as part of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s Project: Roomkey. Only people who are immune-compromised or over 65 are eligible for the hotels and motels, while the rest of the homeless population are referred to winter shelters, like those in Duarte or Eagle Rock. 

L.A. County has also set up a toilet and handwashing station in the Arroyo to protect the health of individuals experiencing homelessness, who frequent that region. The City of South Pasadena followed suit, establishing the same sanitary services outside of the Library Community Room.

All South Pasadena police officers participate in homeless outreach efforts as part of their daily patrol, giving out a resource brochure, mask, and explaining to the “unsheltered neighbors” what their options are. This process is no different from the SPPD’s program prior to the coronavirus, but with added social distancing measures.

“I have been immensely impressed with the work that Chief Ortiz, Lt. Robledo, and the entire SPPD are doing with their H.O.P.E. program to look out for our local homeless population,” Donnelly said.

HOST also supplies two officers from each participating police department—South Pasadena, Monterey Park, Alhambra, and San Marino, among others—who designate two hours each week to look for people experiencing homelessness and connect them with resources.

Union Station Homeless Services also participates in outreach, with a team of someone who has gone through homelessness, a doctor or nurse, and a caseworker to document all of the communications. However, it is common to have more than one program to contact the same individual.

SPPD officers have grown familiar with the eight to 15 people experiencing homelessness that regularly inhabit South Pasadena at night.

“We deal with the same homeless people here that they know us by our first name,” SPPD Lieutenant Shannon Robledo said. “If someone needs assistance with anything, it’s not uncommon for [them] to come into my front lobby and ask for me by my first name and say, ‘I need a backpack with hygiene stuff,’ [or] ‘I need a blanket.’”

However, many of the people experiencing homelessness have refused the services and resources provided, preferring to stay put.

“I’ve talked to a homeless person who lives under a bridge. I go see him all the time to make sure he has food,” Robledo said. “He’s in that category of the 65 plus [who are at risk for the coronavirus]. I tell him, ‘Hey, would you like to get home?’ He says, ‘This is my home. I have it good. My life is good.’ I can’t argue with him.”

South Pasadena community members can help with outreach efforts by reporting someone who is experiencing homelessness on the LA Hop app, which communicates that information to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). 

The SPPD plans to continue addressing homelessness in a similar way after the coronavirus ends, by focusing on outreach and education efforts. The department is also planning to construct a bicycle repair shop at Holy Family to ensure safety among homeless individuals who use biking as their primary form of transportation.

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