On December 17th (a night we will never forget), an incredible moral victory took place at City Hall: to address the need to house our City’s 677 homeless population, the Pasadena City Council voted unanimously to build 65-70 units of homeless housing (plus commercial development) at Heritage Square South! This city-owned property is located not far from our Meetinghouse, on the corner of Orange Grove and Fair Oaks, and was purchased by the City for affordable housing 15 years ago with HUD and redevelopment funds. If all goes as anticipated, a center for homeless seniors will be built on this site within 35 months!
This victory was the culmination of a campaign by the Greater Pasadena Area Housing Group (GPAHG) that started in March and has involved two prayer vigils, many one-on-one meetings with city officials, letter-writing campaigns (over 800 letters!), community organizing, careful research, and constant prayer.
On Dec 17 thirty people showed up to advocate for homeless housing. Before we had a chance to speak, the Council members made it clear that they agree with us that homeless housing needs to be one of the City’s main priorities. We were overjoyed and thanked them profusely!
This was a night when we felt God’s presence at work doing more than we imagined. Mayor Tornek surprised everyone by announcing his support for using the vacant YWCA near City Hall (designed by famed architect Julia Morgan) for homeless housing. This property had been considered for a boutique hotel, but the community rejected it. The Mayor’s surprise announcement was the answer to prayer. A dozen years ago, when Jill was a member of First Baptist Church in Pasadena, located adjacent to this YWCA, she led prayer walks around the site, asking God for it to be used for affordable and homeless housing. Some people (including the pastor) thought she was kooky, but God was clearly listening!
During this Spirit-filled meeting Council members expressed strong support for converting motels to homeless housing in every district and urged every City Council member to work with their constituents to make this happen. It was clear that our City Council is seriously committed to addressing the homelessness crisis in our city. They also made it clear that they are looking to us activists to support their efforts and to help Pasadena’s residents appreciate the benefits of homeless housing.
I told the City Council that our goal is to insure that at least 50% of our homeless residents be housed in the next five years. Mike Kinman, the minister of All Saints Church, whispered to Jill: “Why not 100%?” Indeed, why not? With God, nothing is impossible.
We have formed a powerful coalition consisting of community leaders that include Union Station, Faith Partnership to End Homelessness and other groups like the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (representing African American pastors) to work together to promote homeless housing through advocacy, education, and community engagement. For the first time, Union Station is hiring a full-time staff person to be an advocate for homeless housing!
Our faith-rooted approach in this campaign is very similar to that of our Quaker lobby Friends Committee on Legislation (FCNL). Like FCNL, GPAHG seeks the guidance of the Spirit in all that we do and appeals to the conscience of our elected officials. We are concerned about building long-term relationships with our leaders based on mutual respect, recognizing “that of God” in everyone, including our opponents. Like FCNL, we are not shy about affirming our religious/Christian roots, but we work in coalition with people of different faith traditions, and also with people of conscience who are not religious. Our goal is to help create what Dr. King called “the beloved community.”
We are very grateful for financial, spiritual and practical support of Orange Grove Meeting. When housing issues come up at the City Council, members of Orange Grove Meeting are invariably present, speaking out for justice and our homeless and low-income neighbors. OGMM have approved minutes in support of rent control, homeless housing, and other housing justice causes espoused by GPAGH.
GPAGH was birthed 20 years ago at the AFSC office in Pasadena and has always had a strong Quaker connection, thanks to Michelle White, a tireless advocate. GPAHG has recently been incorporated under the auspices of a new nonprofit called Making Housing and Community Happen (MHCH), started last fall by Jill Shook and myself. Our new nonprofit has takes a three-pronged approach: education, advocacy and community organizing. We are committed to housing justice and affordable housing. To learn more, go to makinghousinghappen.net. If you want to become involved, please talk to us or email me at email@example.com.