Monday, October 22, 2018

It's time to house our homeless neighbors at Heritage Square South and through motel conversions

An Open Letter to the Mayor and City Council members of Pasadena,

I am saddened that the Ramada Inn motel conversion is not moving forward. However, we now have a golden opportunity to move forward with the Heritage Square South project, as recommended by Ed Tech. If the Council approves housing 69 homeless seniors at Heritage Square South, as Northwest Pasadena residents have requested, it will send a signal to the rest of the City that housing our homeless neighbors is not only a good idea, it has community support. 

Let's move quickly.We lost over $450,000 in funding in May because we didn't approve Heritage Square South by the deadline for using redevelopment funds. We are apparently missing another funding deadline this week.  We also lost a great deal of potential funding by not approving an increase in in lieu fees that could have been applied to projects currently in the pipeline like this one and future motel conversions. 

Below is a letter to the editor that I have sent to the Star News and to Pasadena Now in response to their coverage of  what happened with the proposed conversion of the Ramada Inn:

Dear Editor,
Thanks for your article on the Ramada Inn motel conversion (10/22/18). While converting old motels to homeless housing is excellent policy, it looks like this particular project may not move forward because of community opposition.  Such projects can't be rushed and community input is needed at the onset. Ironically, the residents of Northwest Pasadena made it abundantly clear at a community meeting in March that we want a homeless housing project in our neighborhood--80% of those surveyed said they want city-owned land at Heritage Square South to be used for homeless senior housing. Over 400 neighbors and church members sent letters of support. But the City Council is dragging its heels and missing opportunities to get funding. We are urging them to approve and move forward with housing homeless seniors at Heritage Square South
Tonight during public comment, community leaders will be urging the Pasadena City Council to take action on Heritage Square South and continue to support conversion of motels to homeless housing. The need is urgent, and the number of homeless residents will only increase if no action is taken. Here are our talking points:

Talking Point #1: I am here to speak in favor of permanent supportive housing for our homeless neighbors. Many residents of our city are fearful about having homeless housing in their neighborhood. Studies show, and police agree, that providing homeless people with safe, supportive housing can actually help reduce crime. People in supportive housing are screened and monitored to make sure they abide by the rules. This creates safety for the community. Our former Pasadena Police Chief Philip Sanchez said, “Despite some of the stereotypes, affordable housing doesn’t impact crime. It doesn’t erode the quality of life. They’re highly regulated. They are highly monitored. Lieutenant Mark Goodman said, “The safety level is actually enhanced because you are taking people from off the street and putting them into a situation that’s stable.” Our police support permanent supportive housing because it makes our community safer. That’s why the residents of Northwest Pasadena want the city to move forward with homeless housing at Heritage Square South. They made their desires very clear at a meeting in March called by Vice Mayor Kennedy. Over 80% of those surveyed at this meeting wanted Heritage Square South used for house our homeless seniors. Ed Tech unanimously approved a recommendation for homeless housing and commercial development at Heritage Square South. Why is the City Council not taking action?

Talking point #2: I am speaking in support the ordinance to convert motels into homeless housing and also on behalf of approving homeless housing at Heritage Square South in Northwest Pasadena. Some East Pasadena residents are concerned that their area of the city will be flooded with homeless housing because of this ordinance. This won’t happen. The City Council has decided to experiment by permitting only three motels to be converted and then evaluate the results. They are also committed to making sure that each district will have homeless housing for its homeless residents. The ordinance requires public input for each proposed motel conversion. Other parts of the City have homeless housing, and it hasn’t created problems. Euclid Villa, Marv’s Place and Centennial Place are located in the central part of the city, where there are a lot of residences and businesses. This homeless housing haven’t caused any increase in crime and neighbors haven’t complained. In fact, homeless housing is such an asset that the residents of Northwest Pasadena are requesting that homeless housing be built on city-owned property on the corner of Fair Oaks and Orange Grove, north of the freeway. If these areas with lots of homes and businesses are comfortable having homeless housing, it seems reasonable and fair to expect homeless housing also to be built in East Pasadena since there are a lot of homeless people living there. I am here tonight to advocate for approving Heritage Square South to be used for homeless housing, as recommended by Ed Tech. Let’s move this project forward as an example to the rest of the city.

Talking Point #3: I am here to speak out in favor of homeless housing, in particular, the motel conversion ordinance and Heritage Square South. Many are fearful about homeless housing because they think it will harm neighborhoods. Similar fears were once expressed in the past about having people of color move into neighbors. These fears were based on prejudice, not fact. Homeless housing is not a stigma, it is an asset to a neighborhood, since it will tend to reduce (not increase) the number of unhoused people in a given area. Well-managed supportive housing is preferable to poorly managed motels. Paul Little, CEO of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, said, “Local businesses don’t feel the impact of permanent supportive housing. If there is an impact, it’s a positive one because there are fewer people in doorways, fewer people sleeping on sidewalks, or under bridges.” Homeless housing and businesses can coexist together in a mutually beneficial way. Ed Tech recently recommended that the city-owned property on the corner of Fair Oaks and Orange Grove, be used for commercial development and homeless housing. I think this is a great idea. This site would be ideal for medical offices to service our seniors and other residents of this area. Combining medical offices and housing for homeless seniors makes good sense. I urge the city council to move forward to this idea.

Talking Point # 4. I am here to speak out in favor of homeless housing. Some people are understandably fearful about homeless people who are mentally ill and act out in disturbing ways. It isn’t a crime to be mentally ill and people can’t be jailed simply because of their illness. The only way to deal with our mentally ill homeless neighbors is to find housing for them that they are comfortable with. Homeless people who refuse to go to shelters are sometimes called “service resistant,” The most common reason that homeless people resist shelters is that they are afraid they may be robbed or molested. Women and mentally ill people feel especially at risk in shelters. When offered the opportunity, most homeless people gladly choose to live in supportive housing where they have individual rooms and feel safe. I urge the City Council to pay special attention to the needs of homeless women and mentally ill people who need supportive services. Our homeless seniors also need to be housed as soon as possible since they are especially vulnerable. That’s why I support motel conversion and approving homeless housing for seniors at Heritage Square South.

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