Tuesday, March 31, 2020

How to respond with compassion to the "novel" Covid 19 crisis

Many of you reading this are wondering how to respond with compassion to the "novel" Coronavirus pandemic.  Being home-bound doesn’t have to be a burden; it can be a golden opportunity to deepen our spiritual life and to practice our faith and values in novel ways. In addition to much needed self-care, and reaching out to friends, family and neighbors via our iphones and social media for mutual support, here are some tangible ways to engage in service and advocacy while observing our city’s “Safer at Home” policy.

How to help: Volunteers who are in good health and under 60 years old are needed at food banks and shelters to help distribute food.  Such service is permissible under the “Safer at Home” guidelines. You can find out more at https://laquaker.blogspot.com/2020/03/blog-post.html. If you can’t volunteer, please consider donating online. Friends Indeed, the Senior Center, Union Station and Learning Works are among the many charities in our city that are providing food and services to the most vulnerable. The Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group (GPAHG), which represents a coalition of churches (including Orange Grove Meeting) committed to housing justice, also needs your support. See makinghousinghappen.org.

The City of Pasadena has a website with the latest info about the Covid 19 https://www.cityofpasadena.net/#coronavirus-information

This site includes a wealth of information about volunteer opportunities, the free meals program for seniors and low-income families, how to access books at the online library, as well as practical tips on restaurants that provide takeout. It is important to support local businesses at this time and also to pay those who clean our homes, even if they can’t do their job because the need to shelter in place.  

Advocating for the most vulnerable at the local level: The city website also includes info about Pasadena’s eviction moratorium that was passed by the City Council on Tuesday, March 30. This moratorium, which many of us advocated for, prevents landlords from evicting tenants for as long as the “Safer at Home” policy is in effect. (This policy requires residents of the city to stay home from work unless they are performing essential services. You can learn details from the city website.)

The Pasadena Tenants Union (PTU) and the GPAHG are urging the City Council to strengthen the Eviction Moratorium by extending the payback period to at least one year and also easing the documentation requirement. To support our efforts to help low-income tenants,  please contact our city officials at mjomsky@cityofpasadena.net.

Local groups like PTU and GPAHG are continuing to advocate for housing justice, which is needed now more than ever to protect the most vulnerable during the Covid 19 crisis.

Advocacy at the state and national level: This is a good time to write letters to state and national leaders who are enacting major policies that will affect our lives long after the pandemic subsides. To learn more, go to fclca.org and fcnl.org.

Our peace testimony.  Congress has just passed the largest stimulus package in history—over 2 trillion dollars! How will we deal with the massive government deficits necessitated by this bail out? One solution that no one is talking about is trimming the bloated military budget. The US spends $728 a year on the military, which is more than twice what our chief adversaries Russia and China combined spend. We spend over 50% of our discretionary taxes on the military. If we cut our military budget by, say, 15% a year for the next twenty years, we’d be able to save over 2 trillion dollars.  If we cut our military by 25%, we could pay down the deficit and have funds to spend on what we actually need:  disaster preparedness and health care for all. 

As people of conscience,  let’s spread the word that the time has come to reset our priorities and stop wasting money on endless wars. The real enemies we must fight are disease, poverty and ignorance. We can fight these enemies with spiritual weapons, such as compassion and self-sacrifice, giving of ourselves and our resources for the good of others.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Meal/Food Pantry Needs in Pasadena for Our Low Income and Homeless Neighbors

If you'd like to contribute to or volunteer with food distribution programs here in Pasadena, there's an up-to-date list thanks to Sonja Berndt. Thanks, Sonja, and all those who are working the emergency food needs of our low-income and homeless neighbors.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Writing an Effective Letter to Your City Council Member: Support Eviction Moratorium

During this time of Covid 19, it is more important now than ever that we write to our elected officials and let them know how we feel about public policies that affect our lives. Here are some steps you can take to influence your elected officials here in Pasadena.

Step #1: Contacting your City Council member

1)     If you don’t know what district you’re in or the name of your city council member, you can find out by going to https://www.cityofpasadena.net/find-my-district/

2)     GPAHG will usually send you information and talking points regarding pertinent ordinances that are under consideration by City Council. But if you want to find out for yourself,  

Look for the date of the city council meeting and click on agenda. If you see something you want to comment on, look for and download documents and staff reports to give clarity before you write.

3)     Because of the Covid 19 virus, the City Council will meet at 2:00 pm on Monday, March 30. One of the topics on the agenda that we along with the Pasadena Tenants Union will be advocating for will be the Eviction Moratorium. See http://ww2.cityofpasadena.net/councilagendas/2020%20Agendas/Mar_30_2020/AR.24%20ORDINANCE.pdf

4)     How to write an effective letter

A good letter identifies who you are, thanks the City Council or City Council member for something they’ve done you appreciate, and then makes an “ask”—a specific request regarding a pending ordinance or legislation that is on the agenda.
Here are two sample letters. Identify the effective and ineffective parts of each letter.

 Imagine you are a City Council member reading the letter. Which one would influence you the most?

Dear Mayor and City Council members,

Why haven’t you done something about greedy land lords evicting people who have lost income or jobs due to the Covid 19 virus. This is shameful! The City should do something. Maybe some of you Council members should contribute your salaries to renters so they won’t be evicted!

Pissed off in Pasadena

Dear Mayor and City Council members,

As a homeowner who has lived in Pasadena for eight years, I feel fortunate to have a home in this beautiful city, but I am concerned about those less fortunate, namely, renters who are at risk of being evicted because they have lost their job or income because of the Covid 10 virus, or have to stay home to take care of their kids. I want to thank you for protecting tenants from eviction in the past and for the current ordinance that would protect tenants from eviction during this emergency.
While I support this ordinance, I feel that it could be strengthened if tenants had a year to pay back rents that they were unable to pay because of this emergency. We don’t know how long this state of emergency will last and people will be out of work. We do know that those who are low and very low-income working in the service sector are going to suffer the most. They will have a hard time repaying rent and need extra time to do so. Please craft your ordinance to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.

Respectfully yours,

Dr. M.

Dear Mayor and City Council members,

As a renter here in the city who has worked for five years as a waitress, I have just been laid off. I am a single mom with two kids and don’t know how I am going to pay the rent. Right now I’m paying nearly half of my income on rent, so we barely havre enough for groceries and other basics. I am glad to hear that you have an ordinance that would prevent my landlord from evicting me now that I am unemployed and taking care of my kids, but what will happen if I can’t get back to work for several months? How can I pay back rent in six months? Please extend the time for replaying the rent to at least one year so I don’t get evicted or am forced to leave the city. This is a scary time for me. Please do what you can to help. Thank you!

Your truly,

Sally H.

5. Process for contacting elected officials: You can send your email directly to a City Council member. Here are their emails:

ttornek@cityofpasadena.net, thampton@cityofpasadena.net, mmcaustin@cityofpasadena.net, gmasuda@cityofpasadena.net, smadison@cityofpasadena.net, vgordo@cityofpasadena.net, awilson@cityofpasadena.net, 

Please note it's probably better also to send the letter to the city clerk Mark Jomsky so your letter will be counted:


The following new procedure is going into effect because “social distancing” rules limit the number of people who can attend Council meetings and speak during public comment.

Members of the public may submit comments of any length up to two hours prior to the start of the meeting, at the following email address:  publiccomment@cityofpasadena.net

Please be aware that, while these comments will be provided to the members of the body and will become part of the meeting record, they will not be read aloud. Any comment submitted in this fashion will be forwarded to the legislative body prior to the start of the meeting.

During the meeting, members of the public may submit up to 200 words regarding items on the agenda. If you wish your comments to be read aloud during the meeting, please indicate so on the form. If you submit more than one form, only the first one received will be read aloud. The City reserves the right to summarize comments if necessary for the orderly and timely flow of the meeting. All comments in their entirety will become part of the meeting record and will be forwarded to the legislative body.

The Pasadena Tenants Union (PTU) reports that

“We have structures and practices in place to work within these confines both as PTU and as a coalition. :) One item I am happy to share--there were 100 emailed comments of support sent last time to the public comment email."

Your letter will definitely be counted and it will count!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

An open letter to the Pasadena City Council on addressing the needs of homeless residents during the Covid 19 crisis

Dear Mayor Tornek and City Council members,

We want to commend you for marathon session on Tuesday March 17 in which measures were taken to address the Coronavirus crisis, including a much needed eviction moratorium. Thank you for taking important first steps towards addressing the issue of evictions, a major cause of homelessness (14% of those on the street report that eviction was the cause, according to the 2019 Homeless Count). We feel, however, that given the anticipated economic downturn, the payback period for rent may need to be extended beyond six months.

As the Homeless Housing Subcommittee of the Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group (GPAHG), our main concern is the welfare of our homeless neighbors.

We have consulted with City staff and others and are convinced that they doing their best to meet the needs of our homeless population.  We applaud these efforts. Here are some further ideas:

1.   Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

While significant progress is being made, we recommend that all those who are working with our homeless and low-income population (including volunteers in meal programs) receive priority for PPE.

2.   Information Sharing and Guidance to our Homeless Population

We appreciate that the City is working on ways to get important information to our unhoused neighbors such as social distancing, frequent hand washing, when and how to go to the hospital, etc.  The Health Department website contains a wealth of excellent material, but to be useful, it needs to circulate.  We would be willing to assist in the distribution of information via our networks.

3,Emergency Housing

We appreciate that the City has already secured motel/hotel rooms for vulnerable homeless residents who are not known to have been exposed to Coronavirus and are not symptomatic, and that City staff are working on funding for these rooms. This funding needs to be an urgent priority.
We have been advised that the City is working on obtaining rooms for those homeless residents who need to be quarantined, but this has been difficult.  Given that the motels may be facing tough times with potential customers sheltering in place, the city is in an ideal position to negotiate master leasing or even purchasing motels in partnership with an affordable housing developer-- initially for quarantine purposes and eventually for homeless housing.   

Trailers.  Thank you for requesting FEMA trailers.  If you need sites, we know of at least two churches that could provide potential sites for these trailers.

Congregate shelters.  We understand that, after discussion with public health experts, the City believes congregate shelters are not a good option because there will not be social distancing in gymnasiums, etc.  We agree that motels are the best option, but we encourage the City to have a “Plan B”  ready in case there are not enough motel beds available.  That would mean identifying recreational centers, schools, etc. that could be used as congregate shelters, those with showers, toilets and sinks, along with some sort of partitions to maintain social distancing.  Perhaps the closed St. Luke’s Hospital, which already has separate rooms with toilets, etc. could be investigated to see if this is an option for “worst-case scenario.”

In the event of “worst case scenario” we encourage you to allow tents in designated areas for those who are unsheltered.

Thank you for agreeing not enforce overnight parking laws for people sleeping in cars. We have two churches interested in providing their lots for safe parking and hope that the city could partner with us on this.

3.   Hygiene

We commend the City for addressing this issue. We’d like to call your attention to the fact that some of the churches have showers and other facilities that could be used. We are willing to identify these churches and encourage them to offer their facilities.

It is also imperative to increase the number of porta potties open 24/7 now that many restaurants and other facilities are closed.

COVID Hygiene Kits.  We understand that the City is looking at distributing these with hygiene items along with important COVID 19 information, but there is a huge problem trying to procure the items.  If the City can get the items for the kits and needs volunteers to distribute them, please let us know.

4.   Food Insecurity

We understand that the City is contacting volunteer organizations to gauge whether they can continue and expand their meal programs. Food is essential not only for nourishment but also to help keep very low-income people housed, since many cannot afford both rent and food. Since Union Station and others may need volunteers to deliver food to scattered sites, we are willing to use our network to inform people of this need and help recruit volunteers.

5.   Permanent supportive and affordable housing at the Civic Center. Experts predict that there will likely be a recession and perhaps much worse as a result of the Covid 19 crisis. The need for affordable and homeless housing will be greater than ever. For this reason, we urge you to approve homeless as well as affordable housing at the Civic Center.

Again, we appreciate all that the City is doing to protect our homeless population.  We stand ready and willing to help in those efforts in any way where we can.

Anthony Manousos
Teresa Eilers
Ferne Hayes
Bert Newton
Areta Crowell
Jill Shook

Loving your neighbor is more imperative now than ever.....

A bouquet of tulips were delivered by our next-door neighbor Brad on Monday, just as we received the word that the pandemic was so serious we were supposed to "shelter in place."

Awwwww, how sweet!  Brad''s way of saying "We love you, neighbor." We love you, too, Brad!

When I posted this on Facebook, I got 84 likes, including
a comment: "Greater love hath no man than he
who gives TP to his brother."
We followed his example by making bags of citrus and giving them to three of our neighbors, with a note saying, "This is 'love your neighbor' week."

A young couple who recently moved in next door left a love offering on our doorstep, a hand sanitizer, They texted and told us if we needed anything from the market to let them know, they would buy it for us.

On Saturday, Brad rang our doorbell again and said, " I bring you  not gold or frankincense, but something far more precious: toilet paper!"

Did I mention that Brad is a Christian? Or that he probably deserve sainthood?

Verily we feel blessed to have such wonderful neighbors, whether they are Christian or not. During this time of "social distancing," we need to find new ways to "love our neighbor" and show solidarity and connectedness if we want to stay sane and safe. We can't get through this pandemic on our own. We need panagapic (that's a fancy Greek word I made up meaning "love for everyone").

The reality of the Covid Virus Pandemic has been slowly dawning on us. Jill realized that she was especially at risk because of her cancer maintenance drugs and asked her doctor if it was prudent to discontinue treatment for now. He agreed. Ten days ago we felt safe enough to go dancing in a club in Santa Monica during our "Weekend to Remember" marriage enrichment retreat. Now we dance only in our home.  A week ago the Governor made it clear that people should "shelter in place" and avoid going out except for necessities like grocery shopping. That's when we began rethink our work and our lives....

We decided that we had to go to Zoom and social media in order to do our activism. Our first action was to support the Pasadena Tenants' Union that advocated for an eviction moratorium for those who lost jobs and can't pay rent. We also support helping landlords get through this crisis. We immediately wrote our Council members and urged our network to do likewise. Members of PTU met with elected officials, demonstrated the urgency of the crisis, and the City Council voted for a three-month eviction moratorium during a 6-hour marathon session last Tuesday. See See Rent Moratorium.

This was a partial, but important victory. We need to keep advocating for tenants as the economy spirals down into what will certainly be a very severe recession that will hit renters very hard.

Meanwhile, several of us from the Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group (GPAHG) took part in a Zoom call by Faith Partnership to End Homelessness and held several Zoom calls to determine how best to advocate for our homeless neighbors. With the help of service providers like Union Station, we have crafted a letter to our City Council commending them for the city's good policies and urging them to do more to address the needs of the most vulnerable. This letter was sent to our City Council members and  was published on this blog. See Letter to Pasadena City Council

Among other things, we are calling for more motel rooms for those experiencing homelessness, trailers, contingency plans for quarantine motels, more personal protection equipment for those serving our homeless neighbors, more hygiene facilities including hand-washing stations, porta potties,showers, etc. We continue to advocate for permanent supportive housing at the Civic Center and other parts of our city to meet a likely increase in homelessness due to the economic effects of this crisis. 

Melissa (center) with her boyfriend Shawn
and a friend named Marianne  
The problem of homelessness is very personal to me.  I have a close relationship with a homeless woman named Melissa who is legally blind and in a wheel chair. She has a progressive, degenerative disease called neurofibromitosis, for which there is no cure. This week her boyfriend and caregiver left her, and she was stranded at a Rite Aid utterly helpless. She can't push her wheel chair or even go to the bathroom on  her own. Fortunately, we have a team who is committed to helping her: a retired director of Doors of Hope, an elder in the Methodist Church, and myself. After a lot of drama, we were able to get Melissa admitted into Harbor General. She is heart-broken that her boyfriend left her, but she is finally safe and getting the food and rest she desperately needs. We are hoping that she can be placed in assisted living or a recuperative care facility.

Melissa calls me her "father in Christ" and calls me several times a day for comfort. She is as dear and precious to me as if she were my daughter.

We also get daily visits from a young African American man who is schizophrenic and has been homeless but now lives with her grandfather. We got to know him five years or so ago when he and his buddies were living in an abandoned house in our neighborhood. (His single mom was a drug addict who abandoned him).  He has adopted us as family and comes around every day for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a dollar. When we give him this treat, he beams at us and says, "God bless you." We feel blessed by this young man's visits. He has nothing but the clothes on his back but is still cheerful.

In addition, a man who was homeless on and off for nearly years lives in our back house as our guest and has become part of our family. We feel blessed by his presence in our life.

In our advocacy work, we partner with many people who were formerly homeless and have turned their lives around thanks to permanent supportive housing, They are now "giving back" by helping those who are homeless to be housed.  Our friendships with those who have experienced homelessness is what motivates us to want for others what we have: a safe, secure home.

Now more than ever, we see the need to advocate for affordable housing for those who are very low income  and permanent supportive housing for those who have been chronically homeless. This is our way of fulfilling the imperative to "love our neighbor."