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Homelessness in Sierra Madre?
Lawyer Begs the Question “Is this the Beginning of a Hobo Jungle?”
By Terry Miller
We received a letter from a lawyer who has complained to Sierra Madre’s police dept. about a single, individual homeless man who allegedly has been ‘living intermittently’ at Taylor’s Market; the letter writer believes this ‘hobo’ will bring down property values and fears Sierra Madre will become a “hobo jungle.”
This, living, breathing human being has a story like millions of Americans, many of whom are returning Veterans from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Confused, hungry and often with some deep physical and less obvious psychological wounds, these men and women are forced into obscurity and often homelessness.
The individual who contacted SMPD is an attorney and this is what he faxed to our office last week:
“Dear Editor: Hi. This is to apprise you of the status of a homeless man living intermittently at Taylor’s Market in Sierra Madre. I sent an email to the police chief as well as the city council. (He attached copies of the emails which we will post on line for your perusal.) It would seem that a homeless man living in downtown Sierra Madre is a newsworthy subject. And I do believe it is lowering the property values here. Will Sierra Madre become a blighted area like downtown Los Angeles? Is this the beginning of a hobo jungle here?” Signed, Ed Ramirez.
But in the above mentioned case to which the Sierra Madre lawyer was referring, the man is not homeless and is known locally as the pool man to Sierra Madre police. He has accommodation in Sierra Madre and is most certainly not what Ramirez refers to as a ‘hobo’.
Chief Larry Giannone of Sierra Madre PD spoke with Sierra Madre Weekly on Wednesday morning and said the dept. has been in contact with the individual and he is cooperative and not causing problems as is inferred in Mr. Ramirez’ letter.
Sierra Madre is a unique community with many caring and compassionate individuals who help others less fortunate. This is a good example of how man helps his fellow man. From the local police dept. which endeavors to help rather than punish; to the property owners who give shelter.
Mr. Ramirez’ concerns, however, are not uncommon and many wish the ‘problem’ would just go away. We decided to look into what can be done, what is being done and how it is helping the homeless in our area.
It is not exactly clear when ‘hobos’ first appeared on the American scene when you star reseaching the subject. However, at the end of the Civil War , many soldiers looking to return home took to jumping freight trains. Others looking for work on the American frontier followed railroads westward aboard freight trains in the late 19th Century.
In 1906, Professor Layal Shafee, after an exhaustive study, put the number of so-called “tramps” in America at 500,000 (about 0.6% of the U.S. population). The article citing this figure, “What Tramps Cost Nation”, was published by The New York Telegraph in 1911 and estimated the number had surged to 700,000.
The population of ‘hobos’ increased greatly during the Great Depression era of the 1930s. With no work and no prospects at home, many had no choice but to travel via freight trains and try their luck elsewhere.
“The recession will force 1.5 million more people into homelessness over the next two years,” this according to The National Alliance to End Homelessness in a 2008 report. The U.S. Conference of Mayors cited a major increase in the number of homeless in 19 out of the 25 cities surveyed. On average, cities reported a 12 percent increase of homelessness since 2007.
Although homelessness is a difficult number to measure definitively, it appears that more people—especially families and single women—are sleeping in shelters, living in their cars, and taking up residence wherever possible.
One approximation of the annual number of homeless in America is from a study by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which estimates between 2.3 and 3.5 million people experience homelessness. According to a 2008 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report an estimated 671,888 people experienced homelessness in one night in January 2007. Some 58 percent of them were living in shelters and transitional housing and, 42 percent were un-sheltered.
Locally, Pasadena experienced a 21% increase in homelessness between 2005-2008, according to a 2011 City of Pasadena study. The figure today ( 2011 study figures) show at least 1,216 adults and children are homeless in Pasadena alone. A 7% increase over last year.
The Census Bureau noted, through the 2009 American Community Survey, that 14
percent of Pasadena residents were in poverty. Sixteen percent (16%) of related
children under 18 were below the poverty level compared with 11 percent of people 65
years old and over. Nine percent (9%) of all families and 23 percent of families with a
Female householder and no husband present had incomes below the poverty level.
Many of these persons can become homeless because of social structural issues such
as increases in rent, loss of job, and rising health care costs. In addition, personal
experiences such as domestic violence, physical disabilities, mental illness, and
substance abuse can cause members of a low income household or an entire
household to become homeless as well. Often, one or more of these experiences factor
into a household’s homeless experience.
Getting back to Sierra Madre: The complaints by Mr. Ramirez surprised not only us, but the Sierra Madre Police Dept. who have been attemping to help this individual – not punish or banish him from society.
Police Chief Larry Giannone said his officers are aware of the individual but unless any formal complaint came from Taylor’s Market, there is not a lot the PD can do to eliminate the ‘blight’ as Ramirez calls it.
The chief went on to educate Ramirez that the ( SMPD ) is taking this on as a team project so “we can get a long term solution and not just a temporary reprieve. Typically with the Penal Code you cited, the property owner would have to place the individual under citizen’s arrest.”
As Chief Giannone eloquently points out, “ These days they get cited and released. This usually does not serve the long term problem.”
Chief Giannone went on to inform Mr. Ramirez that the city was looking for a more “permanent place for him to be.” The Sierra Madre Police dept. works with many area agencies for this kind of situation and rather than sweep it away from sight, they attempt to find long-term solutions for the individuals. One such unit is called HOPE Team.
HOPE Team stands for Homeless Outreach Psychological Evaluation. We spoke with Commander Russ on Monday about the program. Russ is one of the officers very involved with HOPE in Pasadena and well-versed in dealing with homeless men and women and their special needs. Russ agrees that citations do little to help the individual or the community. What the HOPE team, does is evaluate individuals with a qualified clinician who can better determine how a particular individual might be assisted.
Commander Russ concurs with Chief Giannone that the problem is intricate and needs to be approached with compassion, understanding backed with knowledge of available city/private resources.
Many individuals are “service resistant” according to Commander Chris Russ but there are success stories. Russ continues that “Street Level Resources” are crucial in helping individuals get the help they may need.
Pasadena has one of the best climates in the country year round and as the Gold Line continues to expand, more people will make their way into Pasadena.
Commander Chris Russ also points out that many homeless individuals use the Gold Line regularly as there appears to be little to no check on ticket status. This I know, personally, as I have never once been asked for my ticket when traveling on the Gold Line or exiting at my destination. It appears to be an honor system.
The Pasadena Police Department created the HOPE Team January 8, 2002. The police department entered into a partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health hoping to better handle homeless issues and to provide cooperative, compassionate, mental health/law enforcement teams to assist those in need of accessing mental health and social services. This police officer-civilian clinician team-approach pioneered the “HOPE” model of mental health crisis response.
What makes the HOPE Team different from similar units in other departments is that HOPE Team members are first responders to emergency mental health crisis calls, and are proactive by continuously seeking out contact with people who are in need of services prior to potentially volatile situations occurring. The team’s target population are street-level and sheltered homeless, as well as mental health consumers within the city limits.
Another major aspect of the HOPE approach is working on relationship building and “planting the seed” of trust for the next contact. This is critical in convincing people to accept services prior to them being in a crisis and critical in being able to de-escalate a situation when they are in crisis.
HOPE Team Officers are specially trained in crisis communications, Violence Threat Risk Assessment (VTRA), and are graduates of Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training Academies throughout the state. HOPE Teams also specialize in multi-agency, long-term psychiatric problem solving.
Lt. Jari Faulkner is in charge of Pasadena’s HOPE programs and tells Beacon Media that teams are available every day of the week to respond to situations within the city bounderies where there is a report of a homeless person in need of help/evaluation. Lt. Faulkner noted that there has been an increase in homeless women in recent years.
Unlike cities like Santa Barbara where the “homeless problem” garnered the attention of actors and activists like Martin Sheen 20 years ago after signs saying “Homeless Go Home” were being toted around that city, Pasadena offers a proactive approach to finding long term solutions. Not trying to sweep the homeless under a rug – Santa Barbara’s collective philosophy at one point was NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard).
There really is no panacea for such a problem but there is compassion on behalf of not only the police officers but also the numerous empathetic groups and organizations like Union Station, Foothill Unity Center and many others who are here to be of assistance to those who are perhaps unable to help themselves.
For more information on how you can help the homeless in Pasadena and other areas contact Union Station in Pasadena at Union Station Homeless Services where their mission is to put an end to homelessness. See the sidebar story in this issue about Euclid Villa Transitional Housing and the tremendous success stories therein. Contact Union Station at : 825 East Orange Grove Boulevard
Pasadena 626.240.455. Also if you see someone in immediate need of help/shelter contact the local police department in that city.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles on this subject and we welcome your comments: