The Pasadena Salvation Army gathered its troop of community volunteers and extended a warm welcome to the area’s homeless recently, offering up a large array of health and wellness services as well as a hearty meal and good company at its spacious Walnut Street campus.
The annual Homeless Connect Day event has become a resounding success over the past 11 years, now with 46 service providers offering personalized attention to some 130 homeless clients, providing food, haircuts, dental and vision screenings, flu shots and pet services, among other ministrations. The event was held this year in partnership with Grandview Foundation, Pacific Clinics, the city of Pasadena, Union Station Homeless Services, the local business community, service providers, local government and Azusa Pacific University student volunteers.
Department of Motor Vehicles, Social Security and Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority representatives also were on hand to help facilitate paperwork for the homeless who are trying to obtain identification, renew a license or sign up for other processes.
“We are providing a one-stop shop where our homeless clients can have access to all the resources they need in one day. … Oftentimes people would have to take two to three buses just to get to one place, like the DMV and other city agencies,” said Salvation Army Capt. Terry Masango. “Here they can find out what they need and get connected to the right people all in one place and in one day. It really speeds up the process of trying to get the resources to them.”
The Army’s campus, including a large gymnasium, was turned into an indoor-outdoor service provider area with bustling volunteers from the Pasadena Fire Foundation firing up a tasty barbecue lunch outside. About 115 student volunteers from Azusa Pacific helped the homeless clients throughout the day, doing an intake survey with vital information, as well as an exit survey to help compile information and better meet the needs of the homeless next year.
APU social work department program director Amy Tauati said Homeless Connect Day, apart from helping the homeless, also provides vital learning opportunities to her students, who are registered in the school’s esteemed social work education department. Some of the students graduate and move on to intern or work full time at the Salvation Army or other nonprofit organizations that were represented that day, she said.
“Ending homelessness is one of the grand challenges that the social work profession has nationwide, so there’s a lot of curriculum that focuses on that issue and how to combat that. Our students have had a lot of touch points with the homeless population in the past,” she noted.
Students cheerfully greeted the clients as they lined up, asking a few questions to help them understand their needs and what they might hope to achieve that day.
APU student Kyle Patterson said he was happy to participate and felt as if he made a few people experiencing homelessness feel better for a while. Some clients parked their carts and belongings outside, while others insisted on carrying their possessions with them.
“Everyone comes in as just raw humans, oftentimes with the baggage that they’re carrying, figuratively and literally, so being able to navigate this day with them and just trying to be a sounding board feels like we’re making a difference,” said Patterson, who hopes to complete a master’s degree in social work someday and work on government policy changes. He said he met one woman with a master’s and another man with his own YouTube channel.
“Really, a lot of the people I met today just wanted someone to talk to. They’re used to people not looking at them or talking to them. It’s one of the things I heard most. … ‘Thank you for listening.’”
Meanwhile, student Dylan Lyons helped a client and military veteran try to find medical services. Lyons was paired with him because he himself is a veteran, previously serving as a corpsman. Representatives from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs were offering community engagement and reintegration services, including transitional and permanent housing, but the homeless man told Lyons he was wary of that support.
“He was afraid of getting lost in the system — the VA wait list can be very long and bureaucratic, and he was scared of that loophole,” he said. “Today I learned that there are so many homeless people with very different problems and coming from different areas.”
One of the largest nonprofits in the country, the Salvation Army assists about 23 million Americans annually and also serves 130 countries around the world. Locally, the organization has been able to create more partnerships and procure more resources than it has capacity for at the Pasadena location, something Masango plans to rectify in the next few years.
The Army has been active in Pasadena for some 100 years, with its world-renowned brass band this year celebrating a century in the city’s annual Rose Parade, and over the years, the organization has expanded local programming to meet the needs of individuals, families and children who are struggling financially. More senior citizens are also suffering food insecurity as they struggle with rising costs while living on fixed incomes, he noted.
As part of that mission to expand services and make more of an impact, Masango said, the local Salvation Army will add 65 units of permanent supportive housing as part of its plan to expand its food bank and create a state-of-the-art family center.
“When we first began discussions with the city and other area nonprofits, we just wanted to redo our food bank and create a better space to provide more food to more people. … But as the conversations continued, we saw that we can be a part of the solution to help solve the enormous problem of homelessness,” Masango said, noting that the upstairs portion of the main building (currently disjointed offices) will be redone to accommodate the housing. The Army will soon start applying for permits, along with a capital campaign.
Mayor Terry Tornek arrived early in the day to welcome volunteers helping with Homeless Connect Day. He praised the Army’s commitment to help the homeless and include the units of permanent supportive housing in its upcoming expansion.
“We’re trying to make a dent in what is the biggest challenge that the city is confronting related to homelessness, but the city can’t do it by itself. We rely on volunteer organizations and nonprofits to do a lot of the heavy lifting,” he said. “We have learned that the housing-first solution is the right approach to making a permanent change in people’s lives, and the Salvation Army has stepped up to that. Here we have a willing partner that is willing to do the real work — organizations like the Salvation Army know how to treat people with respect and as the individuals that they are. That’s the hope for our future.”
Meanwhile, many of the service providers mentioned how much they’ve come to enjoy the annual Homeless Connect event.
Citrus College cosmetology department instructor Tara Douglas said she’s been coming to years for the day of service. She helps organize her students to set up their equipment and offer free haircuts and facial grooming.
“Every year we’ve been coming back — it’s a service that is just so needed, and we can do it easily enough. The students really love the experience of getting to work on a different kind of client and just have the experience in learning how to give back,” Douglas said. “The clients usually walk away very, very happy, and the students feel good, too, as the experience gives them a chance to practice their creativity.”
To learn more about the Salvation Army Pasadena Tabernacle Corps and its vision to help serve more people, visit pasadena.salvationarmy.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (626) 773-4400.