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March 14, 2019

Union Station Homeless Services Remains Committed to Helping Community Members Despite Obstacles

Union Station Homeless Services is committed to helping the community’s most vulnerable members rebuild their lives.

By Daniel Tozier
Images courtesy Union Station Homeless Services

Since its beginnings in 1973, Union Station Homeless Services has grown considerably from a small hospitality center run by volunteers from Pasadena’s All Saints Church to the organization it is today. From several locations throughout Pasadena, the nonpro­fit provides shelter, meals, housing placement, medical and mental health services, and job placement programs to our city’s most marginalized population. The number of people falling into homelessness is on the rise in Pasadena, but in June of last year Anne Miskey took on the role of CEO at Union Station and brought with her a wealth of experience and new ideas to help those who need it most.

Pulling individuals out of homelessness is a complicated process full of pitfalls and hurdles, but throughout Miskey’s long career in the nonpro­fit sector, there is one method that continues to prove successful, known as Housing First.

For decades, the conventional approach was to help people overcome whatever had trapped them in homelessness, whether that was addiction, mental health issues or unemployment. Often, as a ­final step, they would be moved into permanent housing.

“Housing First flips that on its head,” Miskey says. “The expression was coined by a psychologist who said, ‘How can anybody get well when they don’t know where they’re going to sleep or eat that night?’ It doesn’t allow you to work on all of those other things.”

Despite Housing First’s astounding 95 percent success rate, it is often faced with misunderstanding, fear, and, ultimately, rejection by the community. Sadly, Pasadena has proved to be no different.

Last year, when Union Station began drafting plans to convert a failing Ramada Inn into apartments for members of its Housing First program, Miskey and her team had high hopes. But before the project could get off the ground, a misinformation campaign was launched by unknown parties, complete with forged letters sent on Councilwoman Margaret McAustin’s letterhead, turning public support against the project.

By mid-October the lies and anger had spread, culminating in a contentious open forum. The city pulled funding soon after and the project was scrapped. The scenario could just as easily have played out in any American city. Miskey and others working with homeless populations refer to it as NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard).

“I think there’s this perception that all of these people who are homeless come to Pasadena because we have services,” Miskey says. “But the vast majority of the people we serve are people from Pasadena … They’re your neighbors who are becoming homeless.”

In fact, only about 13 percent of our city’s homeless traveled here from other places; the rest are our citizens.

Knowing this, how can we continue to argue about the needs of the homeless versus the needs of the community as though they’re two different things? At what point do we finally accept that those men and women sleeping in the Central Park were, and still are, a part of the community we so vehemently defend?

Union Station has a lot of work to do and the obstacles are sure to be many, but Miskey remains hopeful. With a rapidly growing staff, a team of passionate volunteers, and the support of key city leaders, the organization will persevere and heal our city, one life at a time.

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