‘Family Promise’ new homeless program coming to SGV

I asked the Rev. Andy Bales, CEO of the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row in L.A., what he thought of the recent homeless counts.

“Steve, it is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall,” he told me.

In fact, Bales begged to differ with the results of the last homeless count published in 2009 by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which said the numbers in Los Angeles County were down.
LAHSA counted 42,694, excluding Pasadena, Long Beach and Glendale, which count their own.

When LAHSA said there was a 70 percent decrease in homeless families, Bales was incredulous. His shelter, one of the largest in the nation, had to open a separate floor just for homeless families. Some 900 homeless families knocked on his door that year. For the first time in his career, Bales was seeing homeless father-and-children families. He suggested there was a 40 percent increase in homelessness from 2007-2009.

Huge unemployment and the spike in home foreclosures driving this number up? Ya think? It doesn’t take a government agency using taxpayers’ money to come to this conclusion. But in fact, it didn’t. The government was way off.

Which leads me to my point. A few weeks ago I participated in a homeless count and wrote about it. I’ve concluded it was a waste of time and resources. Instead of counting the homeless, let’s help them. I propose doing away with government counts of the homeless. Instead, give the money spent on bureaucracy and counts to the agencies already helping the homeless to get shelter, get counseling and make the transition back into society.
Yes, I’m talking about those faith-based organizations such as Union Rescue Mission and others in Skid Row where for years, law enforcement, hospitals, even mental hospitals would drive patients and leave them off at the curb. Bales helped bust the guilty parties in the “homeless dumping” scandals of the last few years.

In my mind, he’s probably the foremost authority on homelessness in the nation. So when he says the government count is wrong, I pay attention.

Full disclosure: I helped hire Bales at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena in January 2000, where he began an extensive homeless program. It is also where he raised the hackles of church and city leaders and, as he put it, “was run out of town.”

Since relocating at Union Rescue Mission, he and his board have increased the number of beds and services to meet a growing demand. Bales fought NIMBYism to build Hope Gardens in Sylmar, a three-year residential facility for mission families.

So when I ran into him Saturday at a Christian Community Development Conference in San Dimas at Pacific Life Bible College, I wanted the scoop on how to help. Not from a government bureaucrat but from a guy who has dedicated his life to being a Good Samaritan to “the least of his brothers.”

Also there was Amie Quigley, director of community outreach for Hollywood Presbyterian Church, whose wisdom touched me deeply.

When Hollywood asked her to help count the homeless, she took along some helpers — other homeless people. Who better to know where those experiencing homelessness will sleep? Rest? Live?

But the wisest thing she said was about introducing a program to help the homeless to her congregation. “Everyone wants to help the homeless, but no one wants to know the homeless.” And that is where the need is the greatest — in the knowing, loving, mentoring.
When asked about the rewards in their work, both said it was the friends they’ve made among those we see as faceless street dwellers.

For some, that can be a tall order. Befriend the homeless? No one should venture forth without training. That’s why a group called Family Promise (www.familypromise.org) is organizing in the San Gabriel Valley. They are asking churches to host four to five families overnight for a week four to five times a year. They use volunteer mental health counselors, job trainers, etc., to come alongside this vulnerable population. Some churches can provide facilities, other can provide volunteers only. The idea is to work collectively, so that no one group shoulders the burden.

There are 157 Family Promise networks around the nation; they have a 20-year track record. If you are interested, Family Promise is holding a planning meeting today, 7 p.m., at the First Baptist Church in Pasadena, 75 N. Marengo Ave., in the parlor.

This is an effort I can support.

Re-green change takes time

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Joggers run in Peck Road Water Conservation Park.

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Visitors stand on the edge of the north end of the lake at Peck Road Park on Thursday.

Unlike regime change and tornadoes, environmental restoration happens very slowly.

Why?

Scientists estimate it took millions of years for glaciers to come and go, thousands for the biggest sequoias to reach heavenward and likewise for a fish or a crustacean to develop adaptations needed for survival. The opposite of that corollary is how rapidly humans can destroy nature (i.e. the bulldozers sent by the county last month to wipe out the Arcadia Woodlands only took a day).

Environmental groups straddle this time gap. Locally, they are working to restore the Rio Hondo and San Gabriel rivers. Peeling back the footprint of the last 200 years of industrialization is no easy task. They are involved in a game of reverse inertia: Instead of progress, they want de-progress; instead of buildings and dams, grass and rivers. There’s little incentive in a society built on making money.

So I give them a hall pass when I look at the achingly slow progress they’ve made on several key projects, part of a string of green parks touching 10 cities in the San Gabriel Valley they envision as “The Emerald Necklace.”

When I wrote about deplorable conditions of Peck Road Park it was in the 1990s. Those words still reverberate in the offices of the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, the state agency in charge. “I still remember those,” said Director Belinda Faustinos, who excitedly reported progress there.

In the last year, the Amigos de los Rios, along with the county, the RMC and the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley Conservation Corps, have added picnic tables, planted trees, put in a path with decomposed granite and laid a rock-and-dirt bioswale that echoes the Rio Hondo River that feeds the one-mile-long lake.

I stopped on the way to work Thursday and saw a flock of ducks skim the waterway like a 747 on takeoff. I watched two joggers run the newly paved trails. I tested the water fountains and they all worked!

I envision this to be the West San Gabriel Valley’s Bonelli Park. A place where families can ride bikes, host barbecues, count birds and cross the lake on a paddleboat. Even a critic such as myself could smile at the improvements to the place.

Faustinos said the RMC and the county will soon re-do the entry off Peck Road, which today is hidden and shrouded by industrial buildings and scrap yards. The county will kick in $200,000 and the RMC $600,000 for this second phase. “The idea is to create a destination spot,” she said.

Peck Road Park is at the clasp of the necklace but in my opinion is an easier mark for adding green space. It has more potential than the jewel of the plan, the former “duck farm” purchased by the RMC in 2004 off the 605 Freeway in Bassett. (The RMC board will vote on March 28 to pump in another $4 million to begin transforming that land into a passive park with trails and a creek.)

But I’m still waiting for neighboring cities – aside from El Monte which tried but ran out of money – to invest in Peck Park. Temple City residents can ride their bicycles along Daines Avenue into the park’s Rio Hondo bike trail. For a city in need of park space, it could annex this park or at least form a joint powers agreement with the county. Arcadia, and Monrovia – which surround the northern edge – should participate in the restoration.

Residents of these cities and the county areas (south Arcadia) need to take this park and make it their own. It’s that simple. Start by going there to picnic, or for a 5K run. Just claim it.

I’m reminded of what the botanist and local environmentalist, Ann Croissant, said in my column contained in “The San Gabriel: A River on the edge” tab. She said the best way to start restoration is for ordinary people to physically go there, walk the site and see what they’re missing. “Look at what we’ve got here. It is worth saving, yet no one knows about it, (so) no one cares about it.”

Highest paid government bureaucrat in CA

….The name of the highest paid government worker in California (in 2009) is:
(drumroll):

Dennis Diemer, who made $420,220 in 2009.
Diemer said his salary was not always that high. He spiked it by more than $100,000 by cashing in 30 years of “unused vacation pay.” He will be retiring soon. No word on his pension.

I know water is a complicated issue in California, but is it that complicated to warrant almost half a million dollars to one guy in one water/utility agency in the Bay Area?

Thanks to John Chiang, controller, who is publishing the salaries (wages, compensation from cashed out vacation time) from these bureaucrats “box 5″ on their tax return (this is from their W-2 form).
You can go online and check out what your city manager or city clerk is getting paid. I did and found that most city clerks get more than $100,000 a year. Hmm, that’s a lot of dough to take and write minutes of a meeting and hand out public documents (or prevent them from being handed out) to the public.

But maybe I’m a cheapskate.