Saturday, May 12, 2018

"Be clever now" and alleviate homelessness in our City, says Councilmember Andy Wilson

I want to commend Council member Andy Wilson for showing good economic sense as well as compassion for Pasadena's homeless residents. During a recent City Council meeting he pointed out that now is the time to address the homelessness crisis in Pasadena since the economy is doing well and funding is available. 

 "We're eight years into an economic growth cycle, and I'm deeply concerned about the magnitude of this challenge when the economy's behind our backs," he is quoted as saying in an article in the Pasadena Star News. "We really owe it to ourselves and our community to be clever now, when frankly we have the luxury to solve some of this without a gun to our heads, because I can imagine when the business cycle turns, what those homeless numbers are going to look like."

Wilson is spot on about the need to "be clever now".  I would add that with Ben Carson in charge of HUD, there is a likelihood that funding for affordable housing will dry up even if the economy doesn't tank soon.  I don't need to tell you that Mr. Carson is no friend of affordable housing.

If the Council is tired of hearing complaints about Pasadena's homeless residents from Pasadena's housed residents, now is the time to take action. I have talked to many people in District 5 and 3, and they are not happy when they hear that the City had land set aside for affordable housing and let it lie vacant for 15 years. They are outraged when they hear that there is talk of selling "affordable housing asset" to a commercial developer and forfeiting a million dollars in HUD funding.  With the number of unsheltered residents living on the streets of Pasadena increasing by 33%, and the number of homeless residents over 50 years old increasing by 65%, the people of this city want the City Council to act now.

These numbers are not just numbers to Mr. Wilson. I also want to commend Mr. Wilson because he has shown that he cares about our homeless residents by taking part in the homeless count each year. He knows first-hand about our homeless residents. He has met them and talked with them.

He also belongs to Knox Presbyterian Church--whose pastor, Matt Colwell, cares deeply about immigrants and the poor, and takes to heart the words of Jesus: "As you do for the least of these, you do it for Me" (Matt 25:40). Along with theologian activist Ched Myers, Colwell has written extensively about "Sabbath Economics," the biblical idea that society has a moral obligation to care for the poor and end poverty by the cancellation of debt and redistribution of wealth. I highly recommend Rev Colwell's excellent book called "Sabbath Economics: Household Practices."

Knox Presbyterian Church has been a big supporter of the Palm Sunday Peace Parade--an annual event in which hundreds gather to celebrate Jesus as the Prince of Peace. This year the focus of this parade was the Poor People's Campaign, which was initiated by Dr. King 50 years ago and revived by Rev. Will Barber of the Moral Monday Movement. See  How the Poor People's Campaign Aims to Finish What Dr. King Started. Echoing Dr. King, Rev Barber says words that could apply to our city, one of the richest in our state:

In the richest nation in the world — that's what America is — we have 140 million people who live in poverty and many of them are working poor. We have 13 million households that can't afford water. We have four million households where children and the family are affected by lead in their water. Study after study tell us that hundreds of thousands of people die in the United States from poverty and low wealth, not because it's their time to die. We've got to have what we call moral dissent, moral resistance and a moral vision in this moment.

Starting Monday, May 14, the Poor People's Campaign is beginning 40 days of action at state capitols  across the United States. Concerned citizens are gathering to demonstrate on behalf of the poor, and some plan to commit civil disobedience. I plan to be in Sacramento with them next week (May 21).

Almost three months ago, the City Council referred the question of what to do about South Heritage Square to "Ed Tech"--a committee concerned with Economic Development, chaired by Mr. Gordo. I am urging Ed Tech and the City Council take to heart the words of Mr. Wilson and to act with deliberate speed regarding the South Heritage Square property. I am concerned that this property has not been on the agenda of Ed Tech, even though the Council requested that their recommendation be brought back to them within three months. The City cannot afford to wait months, or perhaps years, for Ed Tech to come up with a recommendation. As Mr. Wilson says, we must "be clever now."

The need for permanent supportive housing for our homeless residents is urgent, and growing. Whenever I go in our City, I see elderly homeless people pushing carts or sleeping on the sidewalk and it breaks my heart. I wonder: will the City Council house them, or will they be left to die in the streets?

The City has housed low income and homeless seniors in the past, with great success. I recently visited North Heritage Square and talked with its residents and was very impressed. The City can take justifiable pride in what it has done to provide affordable housing for seniors. The City can also be proud of the permanent supportive housing  it has provided at Marv's Place, Euclid Villa, Centennial Place, and elsewhere.  Give its past history, and current urgent need, I am convinced that the City Council will respond to the current homelessness crisis with good sense and compassion and use South Heritage Square to house homeless seniors as well as provide commercial development. This is economic justice as well as good economic sense. We just need to "be clever now."

Centennial Place

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