Union Station helps clients get back on their feet
By Andres de Ocampo

Natasha Head has rebuilt her life after falling on hard times, battling homelessness, by seeking programs provided by the Pasadena-based Union Station Homeless Services.

Once quiet, with a shutdown disposition, Head said she has “blossomed” after finding USHS’ programs and is now in a place in life where she can be self-sufficient.

“This is me taking my fears, and blossoming into the woman I am today, and going outside the gates of Union Station and really getting out there,” Head said. “It took a lot for me to get to where I am today.”

Head utilizes USHS’ Community Allies Program and its transitional housing and found Union Station in 2015.

“I had stayed at the Union Station Adult Center as a recovery,” she said. “It was a home away from home to get back on my feet and get myself back together.”

Head met Karen King, a previous volunteer with USHS, in 2016 while King was volunteering at the USHS Adult Center on Raymond Avenue. After discovering a connection between them, Head and King started the Community Allies Program in 2018 and have since become close friends with a familial bond. 

“During the time Karen volunteered at the Union Station adult center, I just really connected with her,” Head said. “I always had to give her a warm hug and greet her. She was someone I really wanted to be attached to.

“When the (Community Allies) Program popped up, I was game for it. I needed a best friend; I needed a big buddy. It took me back to high school when we had someone that guided us through our tough times and situations and she has always been there for me and my son, which is a blessing.”

Union Station Homeless Services was founded in 1973 and is committed to helping individuals and families end homelessness and rebuild their lives.

USHS has many other programs and services, among the Community Allies Program, and is the largest social-service agency in San Gabriel Valley, from Pasadena to Pomona, and is partnered with other agencies throughout Los Angeles County.

To help “clients,” which USHS defines as anyone the organization serves or assists, it depends on its staff, volunteers and the community.

“Union Station was founded by volunteers and the agency as a whole would come to a grinding halt if we didn’t have the volunteers that help us every day,” said Dana Bean, USHS’ senior director of development and communications.

Bean said each year USHS has over 3,500 volunteers helping with every aspect of its work, from helping in kitchens and running events to helping at the front desk at the USHS office.

Bean emphasized the community’s impact and role in helping end homelessness.

“The work of Union Station is critical in our community,” Bean said.

“We are helping 4,500 people every year connect with services and helping 1,000 people a year end their homelessness, but we can’t do it alone. This is truly a community effort.

“(The community) can also advocate for more affordable housing (in the areas they live and) they can advocate for fair wages.”

By recognizing systems that have led to the homelessness crisis, Bean said, like income inequality, a lack of affordable health care and efficient mental health care, the community can help those in their community who are experiencing homelessness.

USHS operates within its four foundational pillars of outreach, bridge housing, supportive housing and community integration to provide multiple services to those in need.

“Our mission has remained the same (since 1973),” Bean said.

“Our goal is to help people end their homelessness, but that mission has deepened and the way we do that has developed over time. We believe very strongly in housing first but not housing only. Once people feel safe, we can help work with them in the journey of rebuilding their life. All of the programs we have speak to that mission and intent.”

Outreach, USHS’ first pillar of service, relies on its staff going out to communities, encampments, hospitals, etc. to speak to people experiencing homelessness to see what services USHS can provide them.

Bean said many of the staff members have clinical, physical and mental experience.

“(USHS staff) who serve in these rolls are trust-builders,” she said, “They’re letting people know what services are available and they’re letting them know Union Station will be there for them.”

The second pillar of USHS, bridge housing, is to, “provide shelter, housing vouchers and bridge-housing opportunities for (families and individuals) to have a safe place to stay in the interim while (USHS) helps them look for more permanent housing,” Bean said.

Supportive housing, the third pillar of USHS, includes three buildings in Pasadena—Euclid Villa and Marv’s Place for families, and Sentential Place for adults, and serves as what USHS calls, “permanent supportive housing.”

The fourth pillar, community integration, is multilayered with services, like employment resources and their 2-year-old program, Community Allies, for people being assisted by USHS.

“(USHS has) case managers helping recently housed clients but there’s a whole other piece that case managers can’t always provide,” Bean said. “We established community allies to provide a sense of ongoing belonging and friendship in a new community.”

A lot of people who have experienced homelessness face isolation, according to Bean, and the isolation does not always end once they have been housed. “By pairing a client with a friendly face in the community, who is willing to (volunteer), really helps clients create a wonderful transition into housing,” Bean said. 

Head and King, after joining the Community Allies Program together in 2018, have shared many moments together by attending social events in Pasadena and growing their personal connection with each other.

“Whether we’re in the Community Allies Program or not, we’re going to always be in each other’s lives,” King said. “That’s just something that’s going to happen for us and continue on… It’s been wonderful for both of us. (Natasha) knows she can count on me for whatever it is.”

Head has since worked with a case manager at USHS and moved from the dormitory-style housing at USHS Adult Center to a one-bedroom apartment in Pasadena to live comfortably with her 1-year-old son.

“Union Station’s program for transitional housing is great,” Head said. “I wish and pray for anyone who is homeless to open that door and have the opportunity to know that they are secure, have a roof over their head and have the protection they need to get off the streets.

“It’s been a wonderful blessing to find Union Station and to seek the programs (they offer). I used to be a really quiet, shutdown person. I had a lot that I lost when I first (found) Union Station. I used it as a recovery center to better myself and to move myself forward in life. I used Union Station as a growth in my life and I will continue on that growth.” n