Saturday, February 29, 2020

Orange Grove Quaker Meeting is becoming a center for housing justice in our city!

As a Quaker and member of Orange Grove Meeting, I am pleased that, thanks to the Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group (GPAHG),  Orange Grove Quaker Meeting has become a center for housing justice work in our city. Thirteen candidates for office showed up for a Candidates Forum at our Quaker Meetinghouse last month, along with 150 others from the community who wanted to hear what the candidates had to say about the homelessness and affordable housing crisis. Last week 30 people showed up at our Meetinghouse to learn about "granny flats" (technically, "accessory dwelling units"). Our monthly GPAHG meetings generally draw 15-20 people, so this was a good turnout and hopefully a sign of things to come. As we become increasingly better known, we are hoping that the turnout will continue to increase this year. The need for affordable and homeless housing is huge, and we need to work together to find solutions. Our goal is not only to increase the number of affordable and homeless housing units, but also to build what Dr. King called "the beloved community."

I am reminded of the days when the American Friends Service Committee had its office in Pasadena and was seen as a center for peace and justice work in our community. It is no accident that GPAHG was birthed in the AFSC office in the early 1990s.  I am pleased that Quakers are once again becoming known in the community for our work on behalf of social justice. 

Here's a report of what the GPAHG's Homeless Housing Subcommittee (which I chair) has accomplished in the last month:

Moral Monday vigils, pictures of which are posted on line and sent to the City Council.

Outreach to Western Friends School (Anthony, see below) and to Girl Scouts (Jill). The Scouts plan to attend a Moral Monday vigil in April and the WFS will take part in March.

Press coverage in Pasadena Now that included a video 

Outreach to Centennial Place: We held a planning meeting at Centennial Place on Jan 20 and encouraged residents to participate in our advocacy. They were very receptive and we plan to hold a second meeting there on March 5.

Outreach to churches: Foursquare Gospel Church and New Guiding Light.

Outreach to Senior Commission. When I spoke, they seemed very interested in homeless senior housing and invited me back.

Strategic Plan: Like other subcommittees, we are participating the strategic planning process led by Leadership Pasadena.  Our goals include motel conversions, advocating for zoning changes to help the church land subcommittee, exploring other options for homeless housing sites, safe parking, etc.

Report by Teacher Tim Noonan of Western Friends School: Our friend Anthony visited to share more information about the Monday vigils for homeless and low-income housing. He helped connect the students to our homeless brothers and sisters with the story of his friend Mark, and inspired the students with the story of the success of his advocacy work so far and what still needs to be done. Anthony also gave tips to the Kameleons on how to prepare to address City Council to show they care about the issue. FWS has committed to joining the vigil on the second-fourth Monday in March (03/09, 03/16, 03/23) and some Kameleons will prepare to "pull a card" and address the Council with prepared statements as part of their service learning.


The City Council voted to prioritize affordable housing at the Civic Center. Most of the candidates indicated support for homeless housing at the Civic Center, except for Gene Masuda (who was neutral) and Felicia Williams (who was opaque). Our campaign is definitely having an impact!

Good news: how together we can end the homeless crisis!

Jill speaking and Mayor Tornek in the back taking notes
Jill and I spoke at the Ahiah Center for Spiritual Living here in Pasadena where Rev Michael Lattimore organized a  Townhall on Homeless Solutions this week. Rev. Michael had been homeless himself and has a beautiful heart for people who are marginalized and living on the street. He invited Rabbi Joshua Grater of Friends Indeed, Shawn Morrissey of Union Station (who was homeless for 17 years), Amara  Ononiwu of Lake Avenue Church, and Jill and myself. 

The most important take away from this Townhall is the need for homeless prevention (providing emergency funds so people in crisis don't get evicted and end up homeless), rapid
Rev Michael Lattimore
rehousing (get people off the street and into shelters so they don't become traumatized), effective case management, permanent supportive housing, and advocacy so that elected officials approve funding for these essential services and housing. There is also a need for education and civic engagement to dispel stereotypes and prejudices and overcome NIMYBism.

You can watch a Facebook live stream of my talk:

Here's what I shared:

I have good news to report. The city of Riverside has had “functional zero” veteran homelessness since 2016. The homeless population of Riverside County has decreased by over 50% in the last 15 years. I am pleased to add that Pasadena’s homeless count has dropped by 54% since 2011, and is continuing to go down.

Pasadena is on track to reduce its homeless count even further. In the past year, our City Council has approved over 130 units of homeless housing: 65 units at the Salvation Army site and 69 senior housing units at Heritage Square South site in Northwest Pasadena. We are currently urging the City Council to approve a proposal that would provide an additional 96 units of affordable family housing and supportive housing in our Civic Center on a vacant lot next to City Hall. Our chronically homeless count could be reduced by as much as 50% in the next three years when these units finally become available.

We know what ends homelessness. Rusty Bailey, the mayor of Riverside, has identified the problem and the solution: He says:  "You can't end homelessness without housing, Becoming homeless is a vicious cycle our neighbors without homes end up in, and the sooner we can take them out of that cycle the better, the sooner we can place them into housing, the better."

Homeless housing doesn’t just happen. There are no laws requiring affordable or homeless housing.  It takes concerned citizens like us to convince city governments to do the right thing and use city-owned land for affordable and homeless housing. It takes advocacy to convince our elected officials to adopt policies that will prevent homelessness. It takes civic engagement and educational work to convince NIMBYs that affordable and homeless housing actually benefits communities where it’s located. Research and experience show that supportive housing takes people off the street and places them in an environment where they can receive the services and support they need to thrive. People need to know the truth. That’s what will set us free to find solutions that work.

The Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group has created a very powerful coalition of faith leaders, homeless service providers, concerned citizens, and people who have experienced homelessness who are willing to share their stories about how housing ends homelessness. Our efforts have touched the hearts and minds of our elected officials and have proven extremely effective.

This kind of work isn’t easy. To get approval for homeless housing at Heritage Square South, we had a ten-month campaign. We gathered over 1000 letters and petitions, we met with elected officials, we had as many as 100 people show up at City Council meetings, we held prayer vigils, and some of us even slept overnight on the site to be in solidarity. I can tell you from personal experience it’s no fun to sleep on a sidewalk. But I was lucky. I at least had a mat to sleep on. Two homeless women sleeping nearby weren’t so lucky, so I gave them my mat. I wish I could have given them a place to stay.

I am passionate about this issue because I am friends with many people who have experienced homelessness. In fact, a formerly homeless man has lived in our back house for the past five years and we consider him a close friend. For the last twelve years I’ve tried to help a homeless woman named Melissa to be housed. She’s legally blind and get around in a wheel chair and has to panhandle every day to supplement the $1000 she receives in SSDI—not enough to pay for rent and food. She calls me every day and considers me her “father in Christ.” I’ve done everything I can to get this dear woman housed, but she’s still homeless. I am appalled that women like her, a handicapped woman with a grown up daughter,  has been homeless for nearly two decades.

The Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group works with groups like Everyone in and Faith Partnership to End Homelessness to do educational work around homelessness. We’ve participated in town halls like this and we also organized three “Homeless to Housed” bus tours last year. Around 30 people took part in each tour, and visited Marv’s Place—which houses 19 formerly homeless families—and Teague Terrace in Eaglerock, which houses over 60 people with special needs. Teague Terrace not only houses homeless people, it has solar panels and is LEED certified for its green architecture.

Both developments are stellar examples of how permanent supportive housing works. Most were concerned citizens who are now able to advocate effectively since they have seen for themselves that supportive housing works. Some who took part in these tours were people of influence, including mayors and candidates for office who are now pushing for homeless housing in their cities.

If you want to end homelessness in Pasadena, please join us in our advocacy and educational work. Sign a petition, send a letter to our city council, or come to a city council meeting and speak out. Thank our city council for all they have done so far, and urge them to do more.

If you are a person of faith, or a person of conscience, come to our weekly vigils. We meet every Monday that the city council is in session in front of the city-owned YWCA in the Civic Center. This Y is an historic landmark designed by famed architect Julia Morgann that has been vacant for over 20 years. We hold a banner that says, “HOUSE OUR HOMELESS NEIGHBORS AND LOW INCOME FAMILIES AT OUR CIVIC CENTER.” It is inspiring to see homeless people and people like my lawyer friend Sonja hold this banner together.
After our demonstration, we go to the busts of Mack and Jackie Robinson in front of City Hall  for a time of reflection and prayer. This has become the spiritual highpoint of my week. I know that God is listening to our prayers, and answering them. During the public comment period, some of us speak about why we want to see our homeless neighbors housed.

We’d love for you to join our homeless housing team, which meets at lunch time twice a month on the first and fourth Thursdays. Our next meeting will be on March 5 at Centennial Place, which houses over 144 people who were formerly homeless. Our team is exploring various ways that we can house our homeless neighbors, such as motel conversions.

We believe that it is possible to end homelessness. This is a national as well as a local crisis. Ending homelessness has become the goal of our governor Gavin Newsom, and it should be the goal of whoever becomes our next president. We need to hold our local officials accountable for doing everything they can to end homelessness. That means supporting affordable and supportive housing at our Civic Center, and on city-owned land. That means having supportive and affordable housing in every part of our city. The solution to our homeless crisis is us. Together we can make a difference!

For more info contact

Monday, February 24, 2020

Learn the History of Community Land Trusts (CLT) and how we are trying to start one in the San Gabriel Valley

Come learn the history of community  land trusts (CLTs) and how we are trying to start one in the San Gabriel Valley at our next monthly GPAHG meeting  on Tues, March 24, 7-9 pm at the Orange Grove Quaker Meetinghouse, 520 E Orange Grove Bld, Pasadena.

We'll see "Arc of Justice: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of a Beloved Community," an inspiring and moving documentary about the first community land trust founded in Albany, GA, in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement. John Lewis calls CLTs "a courageous and brilliant idea to bring people together in a new way of thinking." Land is owned by the trust, while homes are purchased by individuals, who agree to keep them permanently affordable. This movement is thriving, with over 250 CLTs in the US, and GPAHG is exploring how to start a CLT in the San Gabriel Valley. For more info, contact Jill Shook at

Presenters: Anthony Manousos, Connie Milsap, Chair of CLT Subcommittee, and Jill Shook, Executive Director of Making Housing and Community Happen.

The Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group (GPAHG) meets on the fourth Tuesday of the month,  7-9 pm  with educational presentations and reports from our subcommittees: ADUs, safe parking, inclusionary update, permanent supportive housing, and using church land

Saturday, February 22, 2020

In the Footsteps of the Freedom Riders: Housing and Land Justice and Community Land Trusts

I gave this presentation at ICUJP this Friday, Feb 21, and was pleased by the warm reception it received. It was especially nice to see Joe Chambers, of the Chambers Brothers, who showed up for this event.

At this point, we watched the powerful documentary "Arc of Justice" describing the history of New Communities. See I then shared about plans to start a community land trust by our nonprofit Making Housing and Community Happen.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Power of Prayer

A month ago, I wrote a blog entry called "Enjoy your time with God" in which I described  how I felt led to spend fifteen minutes a day in prayer  and contemplation. I'd like to report on how this practice is working in my life, but before I do so, a little personal background.

I first began meditating 30 years ago, when I became a Quaker. At that time I had just finished my Ph.D. and needed to find a practice that would help me to detach from my addiction to words and verbalism. I not only attended weekly Quaker meetings and enjoyed its silent worship, I also spent nearly a year in the Providence, RI,  Zen center learning how to meditate Zen-style. For many years, I had a regular daily practice of meditation--a combination of Zen and Christian elements. To help me overcome my ego-holism,  I would often recite the Bodhisattva vows:

"Sentient beings are numberless.I vow to save them all.Selfish desires are endless. I vow to extinguish them all.The teachings are infinite.I vow to learn them all.The way of the Buddha (and I would add, the Christ) is inconceivable.I follow to attain it."

If you take these vows too literally, they can seem unbearably  burdensome. One Zen teacher described it as like becoming  an eternal social worker. But I think the point of these vows is that what is impossible for our egoistic self, is possible if we let the benevolence of the Universe work in and through us. Then we discover we're not alone, and not individually responsible for saving the world. The world is saving itself through us, through our compassion and our willingness to serve.

In addition to saying these Buddhist vows, I would recite the Lord's prayer, which commits us to letting God or the Spirit bring about the Heavenly Kingdom, the Divine Order, the Beloved Community. "Let Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Again, saving the world is not a solo act. It's not about "me," it's about us and God. We don't have to save the world. Our job is to praise God, the God who forgives and nourishes and saves us so that we can be part of God's saving work. 

After reciting prayers such as these, I would center down into silence and let go of my daily preoccupations so that I could be open to the Divine Source of everything....

Over the years, this practice has had a beneficial effect on my soul and my conduct. Little by little, I became a more peaceful and loving person. A faithful husband, a useful and mostly kind Friend, an interfaith advocate for justice and peace. Not perfect, of course, far from it,  but a work-in-progress....

When I neglected this practice, I was like a manic-depressive who stopped taking his meds. Little by little I became more irascible, more anxious, and less fun to be around.

I received confirmation that my renewed commitment to daily meditation/prayer is working. My wife Jill notices a positive change in me and is pointing it out to others. All I can say is: Praise God! I hope others are also noticing a positive change.

Along with prayer, I am taking more time to listen to music, work in the garden, exercise and enjoy breaks from my daily activism. For example, I am writing this blog entry as I sit on our back deck overlooking our little orchard. I can see my cat sunning herself. I can see avocados and oranges ripening and if I look carefully enough, I can see buds on the bare branches of our many fruit trees: plums, peaches, apricots, pluots, and figs leafless now, but promising an abundant harvest in four or five months. Overhead the sky is blue with fluffy white clouds and a  breeze--the kind the ancients called Zephyrus--is blowing gently.The harbinger of spring, the breath of the Divine. It's good to be alive!

But prayer does more than transform us individually. It also has a collective effect. Most of my activism is faith-rooted and involves prayer. Two and half years ago, we began to hold prayer vigils on a city-owned lot called Heritage Square South that was purchased fifteen years ago with HUD money for affordable housing. The city council had left it vacant (except for a Church's Chicken) and we prayed that it would be used to house our homeless neighbors. In addition to prayer, we gathered signatures (over 1000), met with elected officials, and showed up a city council meetings. We were like the persistent widow in Jesus' parable (Luke 18: 1-8):

18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
This parable is about the need to be persistent in prayer, but it also applies to our work as activists. After a ten-month campaign, the city council unanimously agreed that 65 units of homeless housing should be built on Heritage Square South. And the Mayor recommended that the city-owned YWCA next to City Hall should be used for homeless housing. This unexpected recommendation by the mayor seemed like a divine intervention. We launched  another campaign and a year and half later, the council decided that it wants affordable housing on this site. Once again our prayers and petitions have been answered!

I often tell my fellow homeless housing advocates that our city council members are not like this unjust judge--they are all people of faith and conscience--but like this judge, they often need to be pressured to do the right thing. Advocacy takes passion and persistence and wisdom--knowing what to say at the right time to the right person in the right way, and if you're uncertain, keeping quiet. Sooner or later this kind of advocacy pays off in ways beyond what we can imagine.

Our faith-rooted advocacy is having a significant effect on our city, for which I am deeply grateful. We are not also having policy victories, we are also helping to bring about what Dr. King calls "the beloved community." We are bringing together various elements in our city that want to end homelessness and ensure that everyone is decently and affordable housed.

This is the power of prayer. That's why I love the quote from Gandhi: "Prayer from the heart can achieve what nothing else in the world can."  To let God's intention unfold on earth as it does in heaven requires that we let God's intention unfold in our hearts. For that to happen, we just need to have faith and keep on keeping on. Thanks to our faith-rooted and unrelenting efforts, the  City Council is listening, and so is our Divine Advocate, the One who inspires us to do more than we can imagine. 
Living and loving God, help me to remember You daily and be guided by your never-ending wisdom and love. Help me to remember to spend time with You each day and listen to your whisperings in my heart as  I go about my daily activities. Help me to find peace within so that I can be an instrument of your love and peace in the world. Help me not to lose faith, but to persist until Your will is done here on earth as in heaven.  I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Divine Advocate.