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Housing and Homelessness

A Bad Weather Shelter In Pasadena? That May Not Come Until Next Year

The front facade of Pasadena's Central Library, with a fountain in front of steps.
The front facade of Pasadena's Central Library is currently closed for a major retrofit. The city has been without a bad weather shelter since the pandemic and is looking for institutions able to accommodate.
(Courtesy City of Pasadena)
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Pasadena's City Council is looking into a few sites that could serve as a bad weather shelter, a resource the city has been without since the beginning of the pandemic.

If a site is located, the shelter won't be open until the winter of next year in 2023. Ryan Bell, who serves on Northwest Commission for Pasadena, said that's too long.

"It’s cold and wet and it can get really cold, even in Pasadena," Bell said.

Where things stand

On Feb.14, the commission voted to send a letter to Pasadena city council members urging them to find a site for a bad weather shelter. This was a week before another brutal winter storm brought record snowfall to Southern California.

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Progress has been slow, Bell said.

Currently, the city has a weather-activated motel voucher program that helps unhoused residents stay safe during intense weather conditions. The program is run by the nonprofit Friends In Deed, which also offers bad weather supplies such as food and emergency kits.

But as Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, the nonprofit's executive director, told LAist, "It's not like I hand you a voucher and you just go to a certain place. It's like we have to work with the motels," in building relationships with them.

Even with all the funding, space is the main issue. The Pasadena city council voted Monday to amend the Housing Department's Fiscal Year 2023 operating budget to add an additional $100,000 to their contract with Friends In Deed for operating the motel voucher program.

A waiting list and high motel costs

Even with additional funding, Levine Grater said the budget depletes rather quickly, since on average a motel room per night costs between $100 to $140. And any unhoused resident looking to get a motel voucher must reach out to Friends In Deed to be added to a waiting list.

Because space is so limited, there's even a criteria of who can access a motel room.

"Elderly, female, immunocompromised, disabled, or someone with children. And that's how we had to make decisions on who got the limited number of motel rooms," Levine Grater said.

In the past two weeks, there have been 82 rooms rented in five different motels, but there's also a waiting list of 130 people. Those motels are the Lincoln Motel, the Pasada Motel, La Casa Inn, Hotel Le Rêve, and Lanai Motel in Alhambra.

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"Unlike the shelter, we don't have enough rooms available for the people that need them," said Levine Grater.

What happened to the previous bad weather shelter?

The original bad weather shelter started operation in 1988 and was also run by Friends In Deed. The shelter was hosted at the Pasadena Covenant Church on Lake Avenue. Levine Grater said that when the shelter was open, unhoused residents knew where to go — it was low barrier, and cots and hot meals were consistently available.

Who is unhoused in Pasadena
  • According to the commission's letter, Black and brown people are disproportionately represented among Pasadena's unhoused residents.

  • Of the 512 unhoused residents identified in Pasadena in 2022, 32% identify as Black or African American "despite only representing 8% of Pasadena’s general population and 44% identified as Hispanic/Latinx compared to 33% of the general population."

But the church stopped hosting the shelter during the pandemic for a mixture of reasons, according to Levine Grater and Jason Lyon, a Pasadena councilmember. Part of the reason was because it was a congregate shelter — meaning people shared the sleeping space — and there was fear of spreading the coronavirus.

An urgent need

As California continues to go through intense weather swings, "we urgently need a bad weather shelter," said Lyon.

It's also not easy finding a site so quickly, explains Bill Huang, the city's housing director. The search has been going on for the past two years.

"There's no space that's perfect," said Huang. "They have to consider how a bad weather shelter will impact their programs and uses of their space. There are potentially some physical improvements that need to be made to be able to accommodate the bad weather shelter use."

Also, the shelter should also be located next to public transit and have a kitchen.

A call for help

Lyon is calling on institutions with the space available to offer to host — noting efforts to help unhoused neighbors needs to be a collective effort.

"That might be a university, a church — we're reaching out to all of those partners now," he said.

Lyon said that as the city is working to make this shelter happen, the greater need is to address the lack of affordable housing.

"The majority of our unhoused population at any given time is comprised of individuals who were very recently housed and have only recently become unhoused, primarily because of the lack of affordable housing," Lyon said. "So, in addition to looking at sheltering solutions, we really need to be looking at ways to keep people housed, so that they don't find themselves needing emergency services on a night-by-night basis."

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