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Marv’s Place in Pasadena Is the Last Stop for the (Now) Formerly Homeless

In 2017, Marv's Place opened in Pasadena, nestled into the suburban community at the intersection of Mar Vista Place and Union Street. The permanent subsidized housing development brought an end to homelessness for 20 families (62 people including 36 children) on moving-in day, thanks to the city of Pasadena and non-profits, including Union Station and National Community Renaissance (CORE).

Permanent supportive or subsidized housing means that residents - in Marv's place, this is mostly families - don't have to fear returning to homelessness because of losing their job or other income. The housing costs are set at 30% of a family's income, so if someone has no income, they have no rent until unemployment checks or other social service checks begin to arrive or they find a new job.

I visited Marv's place as part of a mini-tour of permanent supportive housing programmed by the #EveryoneIn campaign that also included Teague Terrace in Eagle Rock and a proposed development at the Historic YWCA site in Pasadena.

"For the most part, this is permanent housing. It has a very low turnover rate," explains Shawn Morrissey in an interview after the tour. "This is why we need to build more of this type of housing."

Morrissey wears many hats in the effort to reduce homelessness. He is the Director of Advocacy and Community Engagement at Union Station Homeless Services and a former client. In a biography on the Union Station website, Morrissey recounts his personal journey from homelessness to homeless advocate.

Morrissey remembers the exact day he arrived at the door of Passageways to sign up for services at Union Station Homeless Services. It was just a week before Christmas 2002, and he was homeless, broke, and in withdrawal from heroin. “I was so done and shot out. There was nothing left,” he says. “I had never been sober before. I had been using from the time I was 12.”

But a friend convinced him to seek help at Union Station Homeless Services. “They put me into detox immediately, and then into rehab,” he says. “Without Union Station’s help, I’d probably be dead by now.”

He’s been sober ever since.

As such, he is a vocal advocate for increasing funding for services, and funding for projects such as Marv's Place.

"Union Station identified this project as something they needed to have in Pasadena to have more supportive housing for families," supplied Morrissey. "Today, we provide the on-site support for residents. We want to do more of these types of projects."

Daniel's Place from the living room facing the door. Two bedrooms are off to the right and access to a balcony to the left. Photo: Damien Newton
Daniel's place from the living room facing the door. Two bedrooms are off to the right and access to a balcony is to the left. Photo: Damien Newton

During our tour of Marv's Place, we met Daniel, a single father who has lived - with his now five-year-old daughter - in Marv's Place since it opened. Daniel, a native of Baldwin Park and East Los Angeles, moved to Pasadena with his daughter when she was just a baby. He spoke movingly about how knowing he had a roof over his head and four walls around his family was not just a physical shield from life on the streets but a mental and emotional relief that allowed him to move on with his life.

"She's not going to have the life I did," he told the group. "This place, this apartment, changed that."

Daniel and the other residents were recommended to Union Station for residency in Marv's Place through the Coordinated Entry System, a county-wide management system used by homeless service providers.

Over and over throughout this series, I've heard from providers that their bridge housing or affordable housing apartments are attractive places to live, that they "fit into the neighborhood." Marv's Place is no exception. The tour of the development included a stroll through the courtyard where a young girl waived and made faces at me while I was supposed to be listening to the tour guide. She was on a balcony, playing with toys and sitting next to her bike.

Eventually, she went back inside. Photo: Damien Newton
Eventually, she went back inside. Photo: Damien Newton

Union Station offers on-site counseling services that include help finding jobs, family counseling, and a regularly updated events board that informs residents about low-cost and free events around the city.

The success of Marv's Place is still a not-frequent-enough story. Marv’s Place is one of only two apartment buildings in the Pasadena area focused on permanent supportive housing program available to formerly homeless families. Last October, Pasadena was moving forward with a plan to convert a Ramada Inn to housing for the homeless, then that project was killed after community meetings were overrun by nimbys who would rather see families living on the street than safely housed in their neighborhood.

I guess the promise of high-quality architecture isn't enough to satisfy everyone.

Nevertheless, the city is soliciting proposals to convert an abandoned YWCA into a new supportive housing. Mayor Terry Tornek and other leaders are committed to creating permanent supportive housing for the homeless at the site. However, the city's recent approval of extending luxury hotel entitlements for the site alarmed activists that other types of proposals could be considered as well.

For those on the street or in their cars, for those living in bridge housing or emergency shelters, for dads and daughters, there can be light at the end of the tunnel. When communities, electeds, civil servants, neighbors, nonprofits, and others come together and have the courage and the compassion to build desperately needed homes for those who need them most.

For more on Marv's Place, visit Union Station to read a story on its opening originally published in Pasadena Now.

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