The primary challenge for the homeless services sector is that the need for affordable housing continues to exceed the resources available. People continue to fall into homelessness and experience long wait times within the system because there are not enough permanent housing resources to meet their needs.
The homelessness crisis cannot be resolved without addressing the shortage in housing supply and acknowledging that homes are what solve homelessness. Housing is an essential human right that ends homelessness, unlike shelter or other temporary interventions.
Importance of a Balanced System
An optimal homeless services system needs the right balance between emergency shelter and permanent housing resources to provide shelter while quickly moving people through a housing crisis and out of homelessness. Currently, our system is unbalanced. The insufficient supply of permanent housing resources extends people’s experience of homelessness, which in turn impacts turnover rates in shelters, reducing the utilization of already insufficient shelter resources.
Emergency shelter and permanent housing interventions are not mutually exclusive. The city can provide shelter to bring our unhoused neighbors indoors and into a safe space while also investing in long-term housing solutions. As we strive to better meet the needs of our unhoused neighbors, we must consider the balance of our system to maximize our resources. Meaningful progress cannot be made by only focusing on one portion of the bigger picture. While increasing the permanent housing supply remains a top priority, the city is committed to creating and funding a continuum of programs that meet our unhoused residents' immediate and long-term needs.
Commitment to Permanent Housing
The City of Pasadena Department of Housing has continued to invest in and prioritize permanent housing to ensure that the experience of homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring. Currently, the city supports nine different permanent supportive housing programs. These programs include four site-based programs at specific apartment buildings and five scattered-site programs that offer rental assistance to participants who lease apartments throughout the community.
Additionally, two new permanent supportive housing projects are in the pipeline. These new projects include Heritage Square South which will provide 69 units for seniors aged 55 and older, and The Salvation Army’s HOPE Center, which will provide 65 units for people experiencing chronic homelessness, including 16 units for veterans.
The city also launched the Mainstream Opportunity Vouchers Enhanced (MOVE) program in 2021. This program will move up to 75 Pasadena-based households out of homelessness and into stable, permanent housing through the provision of Mainstream Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8) paired with supportive services and financial assistance for move-in costs.
The city was also recently awarded 109 Emergency Housing Vouchers that are being issued to households experiencing homelessness in coordination with the Coordinated Entry System. A critical step forward in the city’s commitment to addressing homelessness will be to continue increasing the availability of permanent housing resources through creative opportunities.
Prevention initiatives are necessary for an effective homeless services system to ensure people can remain in their homes and avoid a destabilizing housing crisis. The economic consequences of COVID-19 have threatened the housing stability of a subset of Pasadenans. The extent of the pandemic’s impacts has also not been fully realized due to the federal, state, and local eviction moratoria that were put in place to prohibit residential landlords from pursuing eviction for nonpayment of rent due to COVID-19-related financial distress.
Locally, the eviction moratorium adopted by the City Council in March 2020 will protect residential and commercial tenants who cannot pay rent due to the loss of income as a result of COVID-19 through June 30, 2022. However, after lifting the emergency order, tenants will be expected to pay back deferred rent within six months, and a potential wave of evictions is likely to follow suit.
This upcoming change means that it is of the utmost importance that adequate resources are in place to serve and support residents at risk of falling into homelessness. The city has contracted with the Housing Rights Center to provide legal education, information, advice, and limited legal services specifically for Pasadena residents to prevent or defend eviction cases. Further, the city continues to fund Friends In Deed to provide case management and financial assistance to prevent evictions and support long-term rent sustainability.
Low-barrier emergency shelter is necessary to protect and ensure the safety of our unhoused neighbors while connecting them to essential services and permanent housing.
Since 2018, the city has received an influx of one-time grant funds that have supported the expansion of motel-based shelter resources. With this infusion of new funding and subsequent increase in emergency shelter capacity, more of our unhoused residents have been able to sleep inside and take refuge from the streets while moving forward on their path to permanent housing.
Motel vouchers have proven to be a valuable resource allowing for rapid increase in bed availability. In addition, these programs offer flexibility with short- to medium-term stays to best serve each individual or family’s unique and varying needs.
Throughout the pandemic, motel-based non-congregate shelters provided vulnerable people experiencing homelessness with a safe and protective environment. This helped reduce the spread of the virus and ensured continued access to care, including COVID-19 testing and vaccines.
Services and Engagement
Increased local and state funding has allowed the Department of Housing to expand investments in critical services to address homelessness in our city. This funding has enabled the creation of street outreach teams to ensure people are getting connected to services and resources within the community and housing location programs to assist with locating apartments and building relationships with local landlords to house people faster.
The city is fully committed to a Housing First (HF) approach across all programs to ensure services are low-barrier and accessible to the people who need them and to facilitate connections to the Coordinated Entry System (CES) among system partners wherever possible. In addition, the Department of Housing regularly reviews data and gathers feedback from service providers on both outstanding and emerging needs to inform funding allocation decisions for services.