Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Prayer vigil consecrates South Heritage Square for Divine Mandate: "Give Shelter to the Homeless"

Pastor Jared McDaniels of Zion AME Church
On Sunday, March 11, around thirty people of faith mostly from Northwest Pasadena gathered on the city-owned property known as South Heritage Square. We had learned that Vice Mayor John Kennedy had raised the possibility of using this property for permanent supportive housing for our homeless neighbors, and we  prayed that the City Council  "defend the rights of the poor and needy" (Proverbs 31:8-9) by housing homeless seniors on the land where we stood. 

Ours was a diverse group: African American pastors, Latino pastors, and an assortment of neighbors and lay people all deeply committed to social justice and compassion. I was the lone Quaker. 

As we formed a circle, Pastor Jared McDaniels and Pastor Marcelo Alvarado as well as others spoke about the importance of housing homeless seniors on this land. 

On a cyclone fence we placed a banner with the words of the prophet Isaiah: GIVE SHELTER TO THE HOMELESS (Isaiah 58:7). Ironically, this fence was purchased with taxpayer dollars to keep homeless people from sleeping on this city-owned property. (Rather than sleep on public property, our homeless neighbors are forced to sleep in bushes next to private businesses and in alleys.)

We feel it would be better to house homeless seniors with dignity (as is already happening at North Heritage Square) rather than let them live and die on the streets like animals. God made his intention clear: "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:24).

We are planning an interfaith prayer vigil and shared meal on this site on Friday, June 8, at 7:00 pm. For more info see https://laquaker.blogspot.com/2018/06/join-us-for-interfaith-prayer-vigil-and.html

During our prayer vigil each person shared biblical passages like these relating to poverty and justice:

Proverbs 29:7 

A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.

Proverbs 31:8-9 

Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Leviticus 25:35

 "If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you.

1 John 3:17 

But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?

Psalm 103:6 

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.

Amos 5:24 

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Proverbs 17:5 

Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker; he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.

Proverbs 28:27 

Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.

Proverbs 22:9 

Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.

Leviticus 19:9-10 

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.

Matthew 5:1-48   

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. ...

Psalm 82:1-8 

How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

Luke 4:16-21  

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. ...

Matthew 8:20  

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Matthew 25:31-46 

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, ...

Proverbs 14:21 

Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.

1 Samuel 2:8 

He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. 

Psalm 140:12 

I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy.

Proverbs 19:17 

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed...

Matthew 19:24  

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

Proverbs 14:31 

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him..

Luke 1:53 

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

Psalm 12:1-8 

Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?” “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the Lord; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” ....

Jeremiah 22:16 

He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the Lord.

Isaiah 25:4 

For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall,

Psalm 35:10 

All my bones shall say, “O Lord, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and needy from him who robs him?”




Thursday, May 24, 2018

Fasting for Peace and Justice: The Peaceable Kingdom and the Interfaith Peace Movement

[This is a reflection that I gave at ICUJP's Friday Forum on May 25, 2018.]

I am grateful that Marium used one of my favorite quotes from William Penn to announce today’s speaker, Blase Bonpane, who has dedicated his life to interfaith peace and justice work:

"The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask, they will know one another, though the liveries they wear here make them strangers."

Penn wrote these unifying words in the 17th century, an age of sectarianism and religious wars that killed millions of people throughout Europe. During this tumultuous age of religious violence, Penn became a Quaker and a Christian universalist who did not believe in war. He felt that every person, every religion has some measure of truth and every life is sacred. He had great admiration for indigenous people and negotiated a treaty with them in good faith that was never broken. One of the icons of Quakerism is a series of  paintings by the 19th century American artist Edward Hicks called “Peaceable Kingdom.” It shows Isaiah’s vision of peace in which the lion lies down with the lamb and children hang out with wild aniimals and are not harmed. Behind this idyllic scene you see Penn negotiating a treaty with the Indians. While Quakers don’t have a perfect track record in our treatment of Indians, organizations like the AFSC and FCNL advocate on behalf of indigenous rights. The Peaceable Kingdom is a vision to which Quakerism aspires.

What drew me to Quakerism was the very things that Blase Bonpane advocates in his fascinating autobiography No More Religion. What the world needs is not a religion based on dogma, but a reverence for all life and all people based on compassion and justice.

This creedless faith is what inspired me to become an interfaith Quaker back in 1984 when I became editor of a magazine called Fellowship in Prayer. The founder of this magazine believed that if people of different faiths prayed together for peace, peace would be inevitable. During my stint as editor, I had the privilege of interviewing religious teachers of various faiths: Buddhist, Sufi, Jewish, and many more. I even spent a year living in a Zen Buddhist center, practicing meditation. As a Quaker and a Christian, I felt that I could learn from people of different faiths since every faith has something of value to offer. As a result, my spiritual horizons broadened  and I was able to see beyond the confines of my Quaker community. 

This openness is what led me to the interfaith peace movement after 9/11. I was working on a book called Compassionate Listening when I heard the news about the tragic attack on the Twin Towers in New York. In the aftermath of that tragedy, I saw flags flying everywhere and our country heading towards what Gore Vidal ironically called “perpetual war for perpetual peace.”  Feeling anxious and afraid, I turned to prayer and sought divine guidance. The word that came to me was “Perfect love drives out fear.” I was led to fast during the month of Ramadan and get to know my Muslim neighbors. This was a life-changing experience.

Because I was fasting and showed respect for Islam by reading the Quran, I was warmly received by my Muslim neighbors and invited to their homes for iftars. Prior to 9/11, I didn’t know any Muslims, but thanks to my Ramadan fast, I acquired many Muslim friends. I started attending interfaith events and was deeply impressed by the people I met—people of diverse faiths who cared deeply about justice and peace.

I began writing pamphlets and articles and even a book about interfaith peacemaking.  A dozen years ago I was led to Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, which has become my second spiritual home, along with my Quaker meeting. I am infinitely grateful to be part of this beloved community of peace and justice activists.

This is my 17th year fasting during the month of Ramadan and it has become a very important spiritual practice for me.  I feel that in many ways fasting and being part of the interfaith peace movement has clarified and deepened my faith as a Quaker and a Christian. Over the years, my understanding of this practice has evolved and my rationale for fasting has expanded. I find that fasting helps me to grow closer to God by making God a priority more important than sleep or food. I also find that fasting makes me feel closer to less fortunate neighbors. I “hunger and thirst for justice” in a visceral way during my time of fasting. 

This year, Ramadan coincides with the Poor People’s Campaign, and I have felt led to organize a campaign in Pasadena to persuade the City Council to support building permanent supportive housing for homeless seniors on city-owned land. This land was purchased with HUD and other funding to be used for affordable housing but the City Council has let it lie vacant for fifteen years, except for leasing part of it to Church’s Church. I am organizing an interfaith prayer vigil and sleep over on this property on Friday, June 8, with help from my Muslim friend Tarek Shawky, whose wife you may know is Edina Lecivic. We are inviting people of diverse faiths to come together to pray and have a meal with our homeless neighbors. Some of us plan to sleep over at this site to be in solidarity with those who have no choice but to sleep on the street and in the bushes. We are urging our City Council to do the right thing and build more permanent supportive housing—the best practice for ending homelessness. Three months ago, we had a prayer vigil on this site and put up a banner that reads: “Shelter the homeless” (Isaiah 58:7). This is something about which all the Abrahamic faiths agree: we have a moral responsibility to show compassion for the poor and make sure they have adequate food and housing. 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice,” that’s the mantra for my Ramadan fast this year. I feel blessed to be part of a beloved community of people who care deeply about justice and peace, a community that includes people of conscience as well as people of diverse faiths. I’d like to end with the words of a song about George Fox, founder of Quakerism, who wore leather clothes and long hair and wandered about England preaching his message that the Light of God shines in every human being. Here’s the George Fox song that Quakers like to sing:

There's a Light that is shining in the Heart of a man
It's the Light that was shining when the world began
There's a Light that is shining in the Turk and the Jew
There's a Light that is shining, friend, in me and in you.

Walk in the Light, wherever you may be
Walk in the Light, wherever you may be
With my old leather britches and my shaggy, shaggy locks
I am walking in the glory of the Light, said Fox.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Supporting the Poor People's Campaign and Quaker Lobby Day during the month of Ramadan....

On Sunday, May 20, I am traveling to Sacramento to support the Poor People's Campaign and Quaker Lobby Day--"feeding two birds with one bird feeder," to give a Quaker twist to an old rather violent expression. I will be traveling with Rev Tim Murphy, a young activist and dear friend who is one of the organizers of the California campaign, and former director of Progressive Christians Uniting. I am eager to take part in this national campaign that is reviving the spirit of Dr. King's efforts to end poverty, militarism, and racism. 

This week also happens to be the beginning of the month of Ramadan, which is a special time for me. I have been fasting for peace and social justice for 17 years during this holy month, so it seems fitting that I am going to Sacramento to lobby for prison reform, reducing "deep poverty," and strengthening our environmental laws. I will provide more information about these laws below so that you can support our efforts by contacting your state legislator, if you feel so led.

To find our more, go to these links:

Here's info about the bills we will be advocating on Quaker lobby day (May 21):


Senate Bill 1392, by Sen. Holly Mitchell, repeals the one-year sentence enhancement that is placed on every person with a prior felony conviction. The bill passed the Senate Public Safety Committee and is now on the Senate floor.  FCLCA is a co-sponsor.

Background: The huge growth in incarceration rates beginning in the 1970s was not due to increases in crime; rather, it is attributed to tougher sentencing policies. Contrary to policymakers’ expectations, greater reliance on mass incarceration has not yielded substantial public safety benefits. It has bloated our prison and jail budgets and has tied up funding that could be better invested in education, after school programs, vocational training, affordable housing and mental health and substance abuse treatment, all of which improve public safety. Longer prison and jail sentences magnify underlying racial disparities in our criminal justice and can cause more harm to those incarcerated, their families and their communities.

SB 1392:

·  Repeals the wholesale application of the one-year enhancement for each prior felony conviction.
· Blanket sentence enhancements are unnecessary and often duplicative. The California penal code contains numerous other enhancements that are tied to specific offenses. Judges also retain the discretion to sentence individuals to the lower, middle or upper term prescribed for the offense.
·  Strong communities are built from the ground up. Repealing this wholesale enhancement will free up funding for programs that actually improve public safety.

Senate Bill 982, also by Sen. Holly Mitchell, adjusts CalWORKS grants so that no child will live in deep poverty – defined as below half of the federal poverty level based on family size. FCLCA is a co-sponsor. The bill is in the Senate Appropriations Committee and is on the Committee’s suspense file and has matching budget requests in both houses. A Senate budget subcommittee just passed a budget request to raise the maximum aid payment from $714 to $1,046 for a family of three by 2021-22, as costs are phased in over several years.  It now goes to the full Senate Budget Committee. 

Background: The CalWORKs program serves 1.1 million individuals in California, 80 percent of whom are children. The level of support provided to CalWORKs families is insufficient to meet basic needs and lift children out of deep poverty. Deep poverty causes toxic stress that harms brain development and early functioning, disrupting a child’s ability to succeed in school and in life and impacts their health into adulthood. The current maximum grant for a family of three is $714 or 41 percent of FPL. However, most families receive less than the maximum grant: the average CalWORKs grant for a family of three is $556 per month, or 33 percent of FPL. 

FCLCA also urges members of the Senate and Assembly to support the budget request regarding another key anti-poverty measure – expanding the California Earned Income Tax Credit to all working adults and supporting outreach and free tax preparation to potential recipients.
Assembly Bill 3131, by Assembly Member Todd Gloria, requires state and local law enforcement agencies to obtain approval by its governing body prior to obtaining and deploying military equipment made available under the federal military equipment surplus program. The bill is currently in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. FCLCA is a co-sponsor.

Background: The Pentagon’s 1033 Program allows surplus military equipment to be transferred to state and local law enforcement agencies free of charge. These agencies may also purchase military equipment from private companies. Military hardware is much more likely to be deployed in routine drug arrests than in hostage or barricade situations. Following the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, the Obama administration issued an executive order curtailing the 1033 program. That executive order was subsequently reversed by the Trump administration.

AB 3131:
·  This bill is necessary because the lack of a public forum to discuss the acquisition of military equipment polarizes the relationship between the police and the community, when law enforcement is seen as an occupying force rather than a public safety service.
· Requires state and local enforcement agencies to obtain approval by its governing body prior to obtaining military equipment.
·  Requires approval of a Military Equipment Use Policy, which, among other things, addresses the specific purpose that equipment is intended to achieve, the course of training required to operate the equipment and requires the agency to consider alternatives.

Senate Bill 100, by Sen. Kevin de León, increases the Renewable Portfolio Standard to 60 percent by 2030 and establishes an overall state target of 100 percent clean, fossil-free electricity generation by 2045.  The bill is currently in the Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee. FCLCA supports.

Background: The California Renewable Portfolio Standard Program (RPS) requires the Public Utilities Commission to require electric utilities to procure specified quantities of electricity from renewable, zero-carbon sources. Though California is on track to meet its current RPS standard (50 percent of electricity generated by 2030 must come from zero-carbon electricity), the current rise of greenhouse gas emissions is leading to an unprecedented rate of increase in global average surface temperature of extreme detriment to the Earth’s ecosystems and species. We must take bolder action now in order to avert catastrophic climate change. California is the fifth largest economy in the world.  All eyes look to us for leadership as to how industrialized nations can enact policies to mitigate catastrophic climate change.

SB 100:
•     Increases the Renewable Portfolio Standard from 50 percent to 60 percent by 2030.
•  Establishes a new policy that by 2045 of all electricity to meet end-uses will come from zero-carbon resources by directing the Public Utilities Commission, the CA Energy Commission and Air Resources Board to adopt policies to achieve this goal.
•  Clean electricity generation also reduces air pollution and improves public health.

• SB 100 will be California’s biggest commitment yet to a clean energy future. We have the know-how and the technology – we just need the political will! 

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

Friday, May 4, 2018

A Love Letter to Orange Grove Friends

I've written "love letters" to Santa Monica and Central Coast Friends, but I haven't written one yet to Orange Grove Friends. I feel led to do so this week, in part because four loving Orange Grove Friends ministered to me when I was feeling depressed and discouraged on Sunday. I realized how blessed I am to be among Friends who love and care about me. Thank you, Evalyn, Edie, Kate and Vahe!

What I love best about Orange Grove Friends are the people, many of whom I've known for decades, and some of whom I am just getting to know. I especially love Jean Lester, who is the glue holding our meeting together. A Friend for most of her life, she is totally committed to Orange Grove Meeting and when conflicts arise, she does her best to resolve them in loving way. She is a compassionate listener par excellence, and also very honest about her feelings.

I also feel blessed to know Friends like Kate Carpenter, who is deeply committed to animal kinship and loves people as much as she loves critters. Her home is a haven of hospitality, with wonderful vegan food.

I love the newcomers who are attracted to our Meeting because of our peace and justice testimony, and who deeply appreciate our silent worship, our lack of dogma, and our openness to Spirit.

The Peace and Social Concerns Committee is one of the best Quaker committees I have ever served on, in part because of the sensitive and thoughtful clerkship of Nina Rivinus. What I love about this committee is that we care about and support each other. When conflicts arise, we listen and try to work them out in a way that truly honors "that of God" in each person. We are also incredibly active, visiting detainees in Adelanto Detention Center as well as elected officials and their aides. Arthur Kegerreis started an AFSC Social Change Ministry with the Unitarians, focusing mainly on immigration issues. Edie Salisbury organizes our visits to Adelanto. Jill and Michelle bring us up to date on what's happening with housing and the homeless in our city.  A group of us started an FCNL Advocacy Team that visits the offices of elected officials every month or two. We do a lot as individuals, and at the same time encourage and support each other as a group. We've  brought minutes of concern to our monthly business meeting--minutes on a Housing Commission, Rent Control, Climate Change, and averting war with North Korea. Our Committee has the courage to take stands and to follow up with action.

I love our thriving  Bible study that attracts six to ten people each month, including some non-Quakers who are curious about non-hierarchical approach. We use the Friendly Bible Study methodology. No one is leader. We ask questions, express our doubts as well as our insights. We take turns being facilitators and sharing Bible passages that are meaningful to us. To me, this feels like a Spirit-led Bible study!

It also means a lot to me that Orange Grove Friends love and appreciate my wife Jill,  an Evangelical Christian who passionately loves Jesus and justice. She in turn  appreciates the diversity in our meeting, which includes Friends who are Jewish, Buddhist, gay, and non-theist. What she also loves is the fact that we practice egalitarianism: everyone is able to speak as Spirit leads during meeting for worship.

I am deeply impressed with our property committee that responds with care and diligence to concerns that are raised. I am especially happy that we have SOLAR PANELS!!!!

It's a joy to see children in our meeting, especially babies appearing magically. And our monthly potlucks before business meeting are always yummy.

I appreciate our adult study sessions, which range from spiritual journeys to social justice to music. I especially enjoy the music that Joe and Kathy bring to our adult study every month or two.

We've had some wonderful workshops this year: John Calvi leading a workshop on healing, a marriage enrichment weekend, a workshop on immigration, and one coming up on averting war with North Korea.

It is also worth mentioning that we have an outstanding website---friendly, professional, and full of useful and interesting info, created by Alex Hopkins, a beloved member of our Meeting. See http://www.ogmm.org/

No meeting is perfect. What bothers me the most about meeting is our judgementalism--a flaw to which I am also prone. Our state-of-the-meeting  report said: "A perception of unbalanced spiritual and political ministry spoke many Friends' minds who participated in a session seeking input for this report." I am not sure what "unbalanced" means in this context, but it doesn't sound good. The dictionary definition of "unbalanced" is "mentally disordered." This is a pretty harsh comment about Friends giving vocal ministry! Sometimes people say things that don't speak to my condition, but I know from an adult study that Sharon Gates facilitated that everyone who speaks feels they are being led by Spirit. At that adult study, around 18 Friends spoke about giving vocal ministry and all said they felt compelled by Spirit or some higher or deeper power to share their insights.

I hope and pray that Orange Grove Friends take to heart these wise, compassionate words from our  Faith and Practice:

"Those who are led to speak have different backgrounds, verbal skills and interpretive power. Friends try to listen more than they speak, keep an open heart, seek the Spirit behind the words and hold the speaker in love. Listeners may find it helpful to pray that the messenger is faithful to the call,and that God's word will emerge through the medium of human speech. A message that does not speak to one person's need may speak to another..." (p. 30).

It might be helpful for our Meeting to invite someone to help us learn about compassionate listening, a skill that helped me to listen with the "ear of the heart." (A skill I am still trying to master!)

The words that I love best in our state of the meeting report were the following:

"We know that love is at the heart of our Meeting work, expressed through our lives of peace, justice and service."

These words "speak my mind" and describes Orange Grove Friends at our best. It's the reason I am grateful to be part of this Meeting.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Homelessness on the rise in Pasadena: What Can We Do About it?

The numbers on homelessness in Pasadena are now official, and they aren't good. We can no longer pat  ourselves on the back and say that we've reduced homelessness by 58%, as was true several years ago. The number of our homeless neighbors living on the street increased 33% in the past year, the second year in a row that the numbers have gone up. There has been a 65% increase in homeless residents over the age of 50. We also learned that 50% of our homeless neighbors were living in Pasadena when they lost their housing, and the high rents are a major cause of homelessness in our city. On Monday, May 1, we went to hear the City Council's reaction to these disturbing statistics. Below is our response to what we heard from our City Council.

But first, the stats:


A growing number qf people in Pasadena are homeless. On the night of the 2018 Pasadena Homeless Count, there were 677 people experiencing homelessness, 18% more than in 2017 (575). • The sharpest Increases were seen among those living on the streets, in parks, encampments, vehicles, or other places not meant for human habitation.

During the 2018 Homeless Count, 462 people were living on the streets, or 68% of the total
homeless population. That number is 33% higher than the number of unsheltered persons in 2017 (347). 

• People living on the streets are our neighbors. Half (50%) of respondents living on the street were living in Pasadena when·they most recently lost their housing, up slightly from 2016 ( 48% ). · ·
 • The homeless population in Pasadena is getting older. Between 2016 and 2018, there was a 65% increase in the number of persons over age 50 who were homeless; from 153 in 2016 to 253 in 2018.
 • Impacts of the housing crisis evident. There was a significant increase (36%) in the number of persons who did not meet HUD's definition of chronic homelessness, . meaning they were not homeless for more than 12 months or did not have a qualifying disability (including substance use or mental illness). For this population, high rents and a shortage of housing caused them to fall ·into homelessness. In 2016, the housing cost burden for the lowest-income renter households in Pasadena exceeded 100%, meaning their income was not enough to cover rent. . The full report is available on the Pasadena Partnership to End Homelessness website, at www.pasadenapartnership.org/homeless-count-reports.

Skyrocketing rents  are a major factor in the rise of homelessness, a fact that the City Council has yet to acknowledge or is willing to do anything about. (They all oppose rent control.)  Here's what I was able to find about rents in Pasadena from rent jungle:

As of March 2018, average rent for an apartment in Pasadena, CA is $2345 which is a 2.99% increase from last year when the average rent was $2275 , and a 1.07% increase from last month when the average rent was $2320.

One bedroom apartments in Pasadena rent for $2138 a month on average (a 1.92% increase from last year) and two bedroom apartment rents average $2709 (a 6.68% increase from last year). 

To afford a two-bedroom apartment, a family would have to earn $97,000.

The  median income for households in Pasadena is $76,000. http://www.city-data.com/income/income-Pasadena-California.html/

That means over half the families in Pasadena are cost burdened, pay over 30% of their income on rent. Many low-income families are paying more than half their income on rent. Most city workers and teachers cannot afford to live in Pasadena, which is why the School Board supports rent control. 

Here are our responses to what we heard on Monday night's City Council meeting:

An Open Letter to the City Council 

We want to commend the Housing Department for producing such a well-researched report on the current state of homelessness in our city. We need good solid data like this in order to make good policy.

We are also grateful to the City Council for showing interest in addressing the escalating homelessness crisis in our city. The need is urgent, and growing. And our homeless residents won’t go away. As we learned from this report, over half are Pasadena residents, and many are elderly.

We agree with Mr. Madison that having homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks is bad for business. But studies show we can’t police our way out of this problem. Homeless people need to sleep somewhere. As Dana Bean of Union Station has said, the “key to ending homelessness is housing,” not fining or jailing, our homeless population.

Some homeless people are “service resistant” because they don’t want to live in shelters (and few of us would choose this option!). But as the Mayor rightly points out, the vast majority would happily live in an apartment if they had a chance to do so.

We agree with Mr. Tornek that ending homelessness seems “intractable,” but that’s because of a lack of political will, not lack of resources. The City has land and can access funding that would significantly reduce homelessness in our city. For example, the Heritage Square South property could house 69 out of 80 homeless seniors in our city, practically ending homelessness among our elderly population. It would also reduce our homeless count by over 10%. That’s not insignificant. We need to find out how many homeless Pasadena residents could be housed in the four or five other city-owned properties.

We commend Mr. Wilson for pointing out that now is the time to address this crisis since the economy is doing well and funding is available. If the City waits too long, and the economy tanks or the funding in DC dries up, we won’t have the resources and our homeless problem in Pasadena could escalate, as it did in Los Angeles.
We commend McAustin and Kennedy for asking the Housing Department to provide a list of city-owned properties that could be used for permanent supportive housing. We also feel it’s a good idea to ask developers how many units could be developed on each property so we will know by how much we can reduce the current homeless population if we utilize city-owned land. Can we house 10%, 20%, 50% or maybe more of our homeless population? 

We also commend Mr. Kennedy for wanting to have a “Blue Ribbon Commission” to address this crisis. However, we feel it would be better to have an Affordable Housing Commission that could provide ongoing advice and help the City Council make prudent and effective decisions regarding our city’s growing housing crisis.

We agree with the Mayor that it is costly to house homeless people—as much as $450,000 per unit. But much of that cost could be covered by federal and state dollars. If inclusionary funding is used for permanent supportive housing, and not spent exclusively on affordable homeownership, we could leverage inclusionary dollars to create permanent supportive housing that would significantly reduce homelessness at reduced cost to the city. This would improve the quality of life for everyone in the city. Fewer homeless people means fewer people complaining to the Mayor!

We also agree with the Mayor and others who feel it’s time to revisit and revise the inclusionary policies so that we can create more affordable housing for our city. In order to capture more affordable units within density bonus properties, we need to increase the percentage of set aside units.[1]

The Mayor says we need immediate solutions, and creating housing takes a long time. This is true, but we feel that both immediate and long-term solutions are needed. We need to provide funding for homelessness prevention and rapid rehousing—a cost effective way to reduce homelessness. We also need to make plans to house a growing homeless population while we still have land and resources to do so.

Several Council members spoke of refurbishing abandoned buildings and purchasing hotels. This possibility is worth exploring but there are some caveats. It’s extremely expensive to purchase and refurbish a motel, even a cheap motel or run-down property. Where will the City get money to buy these properties?  It certainly doesn’t make sense to purchase a dilapidated property, displace the low-income residents, and then build permanent supportive housing.  In Los Angeles there are lots of virtually abandoned properties that can be refurbished for homeless residents, as happened recently with the historic King Edward hotel. But where are such abandoned properties available here in Pasadena?

We commend Mr. Gordo for wanting the Housing Department to explore multiple sites, like Shakey’s.  We will need more than one site if we’re going to reduce the homeless population in our city.

As Mr. Gordo rightly implies, we need permanent supportive housing throughout our city.  The City Council of Los Angeles has made a commitment to have permanent supportive housing in every district of the city. We urge this City Council to do likewise. This is the only way to prevent an “oversaturation” of permanent supportive housing in one area of the city.

Mr. Gordo brings up the question of “social justice.” For him, social justice means not having too much affordable housing in one area. Yet when it came to getting rid of a “blighted” liquor store, he was willing to make an exception and ask the City Council to use inclusionary funds to build affordable housing in an area “saturated” with affordable housing. The City Council agreed to do this because it felt that this exception served the public good.

We would like to see the City council make a similar exception for Heritage Square South since housing the homeless is also a public good. Unlike Summit Grove, the Heritage Square property was purchased with HUD and other funding for affordable housing and is an “affordable housing asset,” Selling this property for exclusively commercial use would mean forfeiting a million dollars in HUD funding. Housing homeless and poor elderly people is true social justice.

The Mayor seems to feel that it doesn’t make sense to spend $450,000 to create a unit of housing for a homeless senior. That seems like a lot but spread over a 30-year period, that’s $15,000 per year, which is a lot cheaper than the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in this city.

The Mayor also says: Why should the least able to pay receive the most expensive housing? Actually elderly people of means pay a lot more on housing than what is spent to house homeless seniors. It costs $12,000 a month (at least) to house elderly rich folk in Montecedro. It isn’t cheap to house the elderly and provide the services they need. The average cost of assisted living in California in 2017 iwas $4,050 / month. That’s nearly $50,000 per year. Studies show that it is a lot less expensive to house  homeless seniors than let them sicken and die on the street.

What are the financial benefits of housing homeless seniors? Homeless seniors generally cost society more money in health care than younger and healthier homeless residents. Though it is counter-intuitive, research shows that it is less expensive to house homeless people than to let them live on the street. A Rand study showed that housing homeless residents has saved the county $1.20  for every dollar spent on housing and supportive services.[1] According to an Economic Roundtable study, the cost of  a homeless individual living on the streets in LA County was around $5038 per month, vs $605 per month when they were provided with supportive housing. These costs increase with the age of homeless individuals. Based on this study, we can estimate the cost to Pasadena of having 69 homeless seniors living on the street to be around $4,171,464 per year. Housing these  Pasadena residents in supportive housing would run around $500,940 (most of which could be covered by Measure H funding), a savings of $3,670,524. This would be a huge financial benefit to our City. [2]

[1] “The financial impact of the program [supportive housing] could be dramatic, according to the report, which analyzed the experiences of 890 participants. The cost of services provided to those in the program fell by 60 percent in the year after they found permanent housing (from an average of $38,146 in the year before to $15,358 the next year).That drop is partially offset by the cost of operating the program (participants receive $825 per month housing vouchers and case management services worth about $450 per month). But, even with those costs factored in, the study found a 20 percent decrease in county expenses related to those residents.”https://la.curbed.com/2017/12/5/16738952/la-homelessness-housing-for-health-studyhttps://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-12-la-homeless-housing-money.html.  http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jun/08/local/la-me-0608-homeless-savings-20120608
[2] These statistics are taken from the Economic Roundtable website and date back to 2009.  https://economicrt.org/publication/where-we-sleep/

[1] Inclusionary zoning means that a developer who builds more than, say, 10 units must set aside a certain percentage to be affordable  or else pay an “in lieu” fee or donate land for affordable housing. This percentage of set aside and fees vary from city to city, but generally is between 15-30%. Many feel that the fees and the set asides in Pasadena are too low and need to be raised to create more affordable housing.  Developers can also get “density bonuses” (i.e. build more units than allowed under zoning requirements) if they build extra affordable units. Inclusionary zoning has created more than 500 units of affordable housing in Pasadena and provided millions of dollars in fees to help build affordable housing. It’s a very effective policy, and it needs strengthening.