As government officials at all levels across the country scramble to provide answers for all issues surrounding COVID-19, Union Station Homeless Services leaders are planning to deal with a potential rise in homelessness rates caused by the pandemic.
Results for the 2020 Pasadena Homeless Count were based on a count performed in January — before the government shutdown of all non-essential businesses to help stop the spread of COVID-19 leaving thousands of people without jobs and causing an economic catastrophe.
“We know the numbers of those experiencing homelessness is going to increase because of COVID and we cannot and must not leave people on our streets!” stated Anne Miskey, CEO of Union Station.
Union Station has been addressing new challenges that have arisen due to COVID-19; they have been acting quickly to provide safe interim housing for our most vulnerable neighbors and are making sure facilities meet disease prevention guidelines.
To tackle new challenges, Union Station has is working with Project Roomkey. Project Roomkey is a collaborative effort by the state, L.A. County and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to use motels as interim housing for people 65 or older, or with underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.
The pandemic has become a potentially deadly add-on to a list of problems someone in need of safe housing may be facing in their daily lives. Without housing and without proper healthcare access, someone more vulnerable to the virus may experience deadly consequences and may spread the virus in communities if they continue to live on the streets. Union Station has been on the frontlines of implementing this program from the very beginning, housing hundreds through Project Roomkey during the pandemic.
Union Station is also preparing for the potential rise in the homeless count in Pasadena due to the pandemic in several different ways. “One thing we are doing, along with other advocates in the city, is to get Pasadena to amend its zoning laws so that faith communities can use their properties for both interim and permanent housing. This would enable them to use their land for such things as safe parking, pallet shelters and trailers for temporary housing. The zoning amendment would also allow them to build affordable and supportive housing on their property. We know a number of churches in the community are interested in doing this and we believe this would be a great way for faith groups to really help those most vulnerable in our community.”
Union Station representatives have focused on developing partnerships with other organizations and sectors that will aid people experiencing homelessness have better access to physical and mental healthcare, and addiction support.
They have recently partnered with USC Keck School of Street Medicine, a partnership that has been a lifeline to so many as we continue to adjust to our new reality and learn how to approach and conduct interactions safely.
In recent years, homelessness has become a prominent political issue as reports continuously reveal homeless counts may be inaccurate in some areas despite reaching all-time highs. Although this year the homeless count in Pasadena remained similar to the numbers reported the year before, an increase in homelessness is expected all across the country caused by evictions as rent moratoriums are lifted.
Not enough housing, systematic racism and income inequality “are so intertwined that it’s impossible to separate them. We absolutely need more affordable and supportive housing in our communities but that will only happen when we break down the racist systems that allow communities to push back against more affordable housing. Too often we hear from community members, including many elected officials, that we ‘don’t want an overconcentration’ of affordable housing in our neighborhoods. Sadly, this is simply another way of saying we don’t want ‘those’ people in our community, people of color and those living in poverty. Yes, the urgent need is for housing and for income equality — but that will only happen when we hold our communities and elected government officials accountable for policies that keep people in low income jobs and keep out those who experience homelessness, often those who are people of color.” continued Miskey.
The organization is also increasing community engagement as one of their proactive measures to address the predicted increase in homelessness. “We know what works to end homelessness: all it takes is the will to do it. That means we must hold cities and communities accountable for their policies and actions which continuously exclude those most vulnerable and perpetuate racism, inequity and ‘othering.’ We have seen calls for justice happening around our country. It is now time to seek justice for those of our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness.”