THE holy couple of Christmas wander from town to town looking for a place to stay without avail. Theres no room at the inn, theyre told. They are homeless.
Today, if we dont identify with the 1,200 people sleeping on Pasadenas streets, or the 21,000 women or 15,000 children homeless in Los Angeles County, with whom do we identify?After reading our Nov. 30 article that ranked the San Gabriel Valley as the worst area for homeless services in the county, it dawned on me: Do we have more in common with the stingy innkeeper?I turned to Andy Bales, resident of northwest Pasadena and president of Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles on Skid Row, for answers. Heres my interview with Andy:
Q: What is the Union Rescue Mission?
A: It is the largest rescue mission of its kind. We house 785 folks each night in our (downtown) facility. We just purchased property in the foothills near Sylmar (were renovating an abandoned retirement home) where we will move elderly women into permanent, supportive housing.
Q: Our story said 90 percent of those homeless women and children are unable to find official shelter. Why are more women becoming homeless?
A: A lot of single moms cant keep up with the cost of rising rents, and they dont have adequate skills to get jobs. We have to get the women in an environment where they can gain skills, go to school and save money.
Q: I thought we had a safety net in this country?
A: There is not enough of that. And add that to the rising costs of rents, there is not a way for them to keep up.
Q: Recently, you videotaped an elderly female patient being dumped onto Skid Row in a hospital gown, straight from a Kaiser hospital. Others say Skid Row is where the shelters and services are. Why is this a bad practice?
A: It has been a bad idea for many, many years. What weve done in Los Angeles County is so-called containment. We think we can corral them in one area called Skid Row, so the rest of us wont have to deal with these folks that are struggling.
Q: What has happened as a result?
A: It has caused great harm to the environment of Skid Row, making it dirty and filthy. … It has done great harm to those individuals who have been abandoned and dumped by society. Ive been active in working with other groups to make sure people are treated like human beings. We need to regionalize services so that each city, each area, takes care of their own homeless.
Q: Is the homeless problem getting worse or better?
A: In some areas, it is getting better. Overall, I think we are in bigger trouble. One tragedy looming is with the elderly on fixed incomes. Large companies are buying mobile home parks and raising rents 30 to 50 percent, and nobody is stepping in. Now there are elderly having to choose between medicine and rent.
Q: What can cities, communities do?
A: Take Pasadena. It has not been as intentional in creating affordable housing or work force housing. It has gone after affluent housing and caused a lot of flight (of poorer families) out of Pasadena. Unless we get intentional about helping the poor and marginalized, we are intentionally driving them out of town.
Q: How do the homeless numbers in the suburbs compare to those on Skid Row?
A: There are nearly as many homeless in Pasadena as living on the streets of Skid Row (about 1,200 in each).
Q: What do you recommend people do to help?
A: The biggest thing Ive tried to do at Lake Avenue Church (as pastor of outreach) was bring people face to face with homeless families, so they recognize they are human beings like you and me. That changes their hearts. Then I say, use your talents. Someone might be able to give money or raise money; someone else might serve a meal. I have a developer friend working on a plan to build several units as very low income.What is most needed is to come and talk to them … to play a game of chess with an elderly guy at a shelter or spend some time and laugh with the ladies.Why cant we care about our fellow brothers and sisters?
Q: Why? Why dont more of us care about the less fortunate?
A: We think maybe homelessness or poverty is contagious, when all that separates us from them is a catastrophic illness or a loss of a paycheck for a month. We want to immediately label them as troubled people to separate from them.
Q: God bless you, Andy.
A: You too, Steve.
Union Rescue Mission is located at 545 S. San Pedro St., between 5th and 6th streets in Los Angeles. The mission needs presents for its 15th annual Christmas Store Toy Drive. Visit their Web site (www.urm.org) for details, and check out the presidents blog for more stories.