LocationAlhambra , CA United States
Tony is 53 years old, with a round, friendly face and graying curly hair. He is a graduate of Alhambra High School with deep roots in the community. He regularly attends open mic nights at Rick’s on Main Street. Locals affectionately call him Boo Boo.
Tony, who did not give out his last name, has also been homeless for five years, after losing his job at a printing press and going through a divorce. He also deals with arthritis and was diagnosed with schizophrenia a year ago. His story shows the complex factors that can make someone homeless.
Homelessness in Los Angeles County increased 23 percent in the past year, as the 2017 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count results–released yesterday–show. Homelessness in the San Gabriel Valley jumped by 36 percent, according to the data from its service planning area.
Preliminary numbers from this year’s homeless count place Alhambra’s homeless population at 14 individuals, with final numbers set to come out this summer. The Alhambra Police Department has worked with 40 homeless people, as Bradley Lowen, the homeless outreach officer, tells the Alhambra Source.
Alhambra’s homeless population is relatively small. Yet like the rest of L.A. County’s large homeless population, those in Alhambra deal with major economic and health issues. Of the 40, more than half suffer from mental illness or substance abuse problems. Fifteen have lived without shelter for more than five years and are considered chronically homeless, according to Lowen.
In reaching out to the homeless, Lowen offers to connect them with shelters, medical treatment and services. Marissa Soria, a caseworker from the county Department of Mental Health, accompanies Lowen to address their mental health needs. Lowen said that he never compels anyone to accept services, and will only put someone on an involuntary psychiatric hold if he or she is a danger to themselves or others. He said that this approach puts people at ease.
“They say the police are nice to them, and the people are nice to them,” Lowen said. “So they feel more welcome than getting pushed around. And in some cities, it appears that they get pushed around a lot.”
Mickey Landry agrees.
In his 49 years of living on the streets, Landry has stood in the food and shower lines in San Francisco and Oakland. He has seen gang members in El Cerrito in the Bay Area beat up a homeless person for $20. And in Downtown Los Angeles, he said he has seen police officers strike a homeless man with a Taser, for no reason.
Landry has lived in Alhambra for 2 years and describes it as a calm neighborhood, with police officers and residents who treat him with respect. While I spoke to him, one resident came up to us and offered him a handful of nuts. He also describes Alhambra police officers as regularly checking on him.
“We always say, ‘Don’t trust a cop,’ but here they buy me sandwiches and say, ‘Told you we’re nice,’ ” he said.
Recently, the City of Alhambra started offering more homeless services. In January, Alhambra contracted with Union Station Homeless Services in Pasadena to provide a housing navigator for the local homeless population. That navigator, Amber Follett, works closely with Lowen and Soria to holistically address the needs of Alhambra’s homeless.
Alexis Boothby, Follet’s supervisor at Union Station, said that it is a challenge to find the funds and the subsidized units to move the homeless into permanent housing, but passage of Measure HHH by Los Angeles voters last November should help by providing a $1.2 billion to build 10,000 housing units for the homeless.
And in March, L.A. County voters passed Measure H, a half-cent sales tax increase that would pay for homeless services for 10 years. Currently, the City of Alhambra has funded Follett’s position until next April using federal funds. Jessica Binnquist, Alhambra’s deputy city manager, said the city hopes that money from Measure H can pay for such a position after that.
All these efforts are good news for Tony. He tries to avoid sleeping in shelters, because his schizophrenia makes it difficult for him to be around too many people. Permanent housing could provide him with the stability and solitude that he needs.
“I’m tired of living on the streets,” he said. “Otherwise, I just want to be left alone.”
How to help
If you want to refer a homeless person in Alhambra to social, mental health, housing and other services, here’s some contact information:
Officer Bradley Lowen (Alhambra Police Department): Desk (626) 300-1525, cell (626) 607-7072, COPPSMET@alhambrapd.org
Amber Follett, Housing Navigator, Union Station Homeless Services: (626) 495-8165, firstname.lastname@example.org