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Alhambra confronts root causes of homelessness at community meeting

During Alhambra's 2018 homeless count, volunteer Kevin Shaw of South Pasadena searched Alhambra Park to provide an accurate count of homeless individuals in Alhambra. In 2017, Alhambra counted 89 homeless people within city limits. Photo by David Muñoz.


Alhambra , CA United States

At a community input meeting on Alhambra’s homeless plan, one resident’s story took center stage.

Denise Ceja grew up in Alhambra and has been living in her current apartment for two years. Recently, the building changed ownership and her new landlord raised her rent by $500. Around the same time, she lost her job. “So I’m about to be homeless,” she said. “I have nothing.”

As a result, Ceja suggested that Alhambra consider a rent control policy. “Just the fact that someone can come and raise your rent that high and have it be completely legal is heartbreaking,” she said.

Another resident, Shirley Tatsuno, said that as a landlord who keeps her rents below market rate, rent control wouldn’t be fair to an apartment owner. She suggested that the City of Alhambra provide mediation between tenants and landlords, like South Pasadena does. “So many people are going through [rent increases], when there’s a change of ownership, perhaps [mediation] could make it not so high,” she said.

The most common causes for homelessness in families and individuals are lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty and low waged, said Winnie Fong, a consultant with the Lesar Development Consultants, which the City of Alhambra has hired to draft a citywide homeless plan.

The plan will be used to secure Measure H funding, a quarter-cent sales tax increase that L.A. County residents voted for in order to fund homeless services. Officials expect Measure H to raise $355 million annually for the next 10 years. After getting community input, Lesar Development Consultants will draft a plan for the city to review, who will then submit the plan to the county by June 30 of this year.

Along with rent control and landlord-tenant mediation, residents suggested attracting more living-wage jobs to Alhambra, as well as expanding vocational training opportunities in the Alhambra Unified School District.

“Perhaps we bring in companies and businesses that provide a living wage and perhaps a portion of their employment could be for veterans or for folks who are getting back on their feet,” said Adele Andrade-Stadler, City Council candidate for Alhambra’s 5th District. “We need to be thinking out of the box.”

Residents also suggested an inclusionary housing ordinance, which would require developers to set aside a percentage of their units for lower-income individuals to increase affordable housing in Alhambra. Another resident also asked the city to consider the undocumented homeless population, who might be afraid to seek services due to their immigration status.

According to 2017 homeless count numbers, there are more than 55,000 homeless people living in L.A. County, with more than 3,500 living in the San Gabriel Valley. There were 89 homeless people living in Alhambra in 2017.

The session also served as an opportunity for the city to introduce what they are currently doing to address homelessness in Alhambra. Alhambra Police Officer Elvy Gonzalez currently serves as the department’s Homeless Outreach Mental Evaluation officer. His main job is to connect with the city’s homeless population and connect them with services. The police is also trained to build trust with homeless individuals and refer them to Gonzalez and others for assistance.

Gonzalez works closely with Ambert Follett, a housing navigator from Union Station Homeless Services who serves Alhambra exclusively. Since funding this position at beginning of 2017, the city has helped nine homeless individuals find permanent housing. In addition, the Alhambra Unified School District contracts with Family Promise of San Gabriel Valley to provide permanent housing and other services that homeless students and their families might need.

To reach the Alhambra Police Department’s HOME officer, email home@alhambrapd.org.

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