With the winter season almost upon the San Gabriel Valley, the less fortunate in the community now have a place to escape the colder elements and stay safe.
Thanks to the Pasadena-based charitable organization Friends In Deed, when the weather drops below 40 degrees or when there is at least a 40% chance of rain, the group opens its Bad Weather Shelter.
The shelter is located at the Pasadena Covenant Church at 539 N. Lake Ave. According to the organization’s executive director the Rev. Donna Byrns, the idea for the shelter was actually built out of a local tragedy.
“The Bad Weather Shelter came into existence years ago,” she said. “We had a cold spell in Pasadena. A gentleman was sleeping on a park bench and he froze to death. Pasadena, being the kind of community that it is, said: ‘That’s wrong.’ They began to do emergency housing, a sort of shelter.”
Making the shelter operational is a collaborative project, involving several churches, relief organizations and even the city of Pasadena, she added.
“We work hand in hand with the housing department of Pasadena,” Byrns said. “We set up 140 cots. It’s basically for emergency (shelter).”
The shelter at one time was open from Thanksgiving all the way through the winter season. However, when government funding for it was cut some years ago, the shelter’s availability also had to tighten, Byrns said.
“When the funding dried up, we started being weather activated,” she said. “We determine if it’s going to be open by noon that day. We provide a meal and overnight shelter. And we have restrooms.”
The main goal is that for those who come to the shelter won’t have to deal with the elements that night and won’t be risking their lives just by being outside, Byrns said.
“They’re off the streets,” she said. “They have a hot meal. They have a cot that they can sleep on, a blanket and pillow and they’re warm.”
Although there are many shelters operating during the winter throughout Southern California, Byrns said she thinks the Bad Weather Shelter is kind of special.
“There are shelters all over, but what I’ve heard from our clients — the women in particular — is this one is run particularly well,” she said. “They feel very safe there. That’s a big thing.”
Despite always being open in inclement weather, Byrns said the shelter doesn’t fill up — or word doesn’t get around to all the homeless community — until a day or two of sleeping out in the cold or rain brings people to seek help.
“It comes and goes,” she said. “It used to be when we opened up (the first night of a cold or rainy spell) there would be about 65 or 70 the first night. And by the second or third night it would be full. And if we’re going to be open for three days in a row you know by the third day we’re going to be packed. But we’re close to being full most nights.”
To be able to stay at the shelter, Byrns said cots are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, adding that being early is the best way to reserve a space.
“They line up ahead of time and they usually start to line up at about 6 or 6:30 p.m.,” she said. “By the time that we open up everybody is there.”
The shelter is also very important to Richard Cheung, who is on the board of Friends In Deed and who works very closely with the Bad Weather Shelter, Cheung said.
“It’s tremendous to have us provide shelter, warmth and food for those wonderful people,” he said. “It means a great deal to me and to the organization.”
But he added more needs to be done in the future so a shelter such as this isn’t necessary.
“It’s really a short-term solution,” Cheung said. “Clearly, we need a larger, more in-depth conversation and an action plan.”
To find out daily if the Bad Weather Shelter is going to be open on the following night, call the hotline at (888) 915-8111.
In addition, Friends In Deed offers other charitable services for those in need, including a food pantry to feed the hungry, a women’s room to help women who need assistance and homeless prevention services.
If anyone would like to help Friends In Deed by volunteering or making a donation, call (626) 797-2402 or log onto the group’s website at friendsindeedpas.org.