A man with a cart on the street

      A homeless person on Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena (Photo – Staff).

      The results of the annual point-in-time count of the unhoused were released by the City of Pasadena and Pasadena Partnership, earlier this month. The results are not good.

      By Ryan Bell

      Overall, the number of unhoused Pasadenans grew from 512 to 556 – an increase of 8.5%. According to the report, first time homelessness increased by 55% from 9% of the total count last year, to 14% this year.  Another disturbing trend is the rise in senior homelessness from 14% of last year’s total count to 18% this year.  All these metrics are moving in the wrong direction. We haven’t had this many unhoused neighbors since 2018.

      With this report comes the annual reminder that the majority of those experiencing homelessness on our streets were previously housed in Pasadena. And not briefly, either. Fifty six percent of the unhoused were last housed in the City of Pasadena for an average of 21 years.

      Seniors one of the fast growing unhoused populations

      It’s not difficult to discern the stories these numbers tell. Here’s one. The overlap between seniors (62 years of age and older) and those who have lived in the city for 21 years or more is almost certainly high. Put that together with the 26% of people say they are unhoused due to “financial reasons” and we can easily picture many elders in our community, living on a fixed income, priced out of their housing by rising rents. We can all easily imagine the apartment they were living in. Quality has been declining over the years but the landlord keeps demanding more and more rent for the increasingly substandard home. Still, it’s home! Now they’re living in their car, perhaps. Just for a little while, they’re hoping, until they can figure something out.

      Empty promises

      Predictably, politicians wring their hands and say we must do better even though it’s the same situation year after year. Mayor Victor Gordo was quoted in the Pasadena Star-News on June 8 saying, “This count shows we have to continue and re-double efforts to assist individuals who are living on our streets. There is no work, at any level of government, that is more important than caring for its residents, particularly those who are most vulnerable.”

      But a cursory glance at the newly approved Pasadena budget calls this assertion into question. Our city council just unanimously approved the new fiscal year budget which allocates $5.2 million more to the Pasadena Police Department and cuts $2.6 million from the Housing Department. There is obviously nuance to explore in the city budget and everyone should take the time to understand it, because it tells a story about what work the city government considers most important.

      A solved problem if we all truly cared

       Of the 556 unhoused individuals in Pasadena, 303 are unsheltered. This is a problem our city can solve. Right now we’re not even managing it well. There are more than enough empty homes owned by Caltrans to house every single unhoused person in our city. Instead of maintaining a slum of abandoned homes, we could insist that Caltrans support our need for more housing. If you don’t think this idea will work, there are other solutions. We can end homelessness in Pasadena. We just need to care enough to do it.

      Ryan Bell‘s column “The Pasadena Fray” appears monthly in print and more frequently online.

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