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Soup Kitchen Fights Suit as Criticism Rises

March 01, 1987|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — By the time breakfast begins at 9 a.m., the quiet migration of the destitute to Union Station is almost over.

Hungry men and women fill the small building and patio at Euclid Avenue and Walnut Street, spill onto the sidewalk, linger around the parking lot next door or go across the street to sit on the courthouse lawn.

On a recent morning, about 50 people were crowded inside the small building and another 25 sat in the patio outside eating oatmeal and doughnuts.

"I wouldn't have anything to eat if I didn't come here," said Frederick Robinson, 27, of Pasadena, who has been unemployed since August. "These people really help if you go to them."

"I never thought I'd come to this, living in a town that I thought had everything to offer," said Duane Johnson, 40, also of Pasadena, who lost his job at a retirement center two weeks ago.

Union Station, which also offers counseling and a variety of social services, "is the only place to come," Johnson said.

Eileen Savage, 42, sat crocheting afghans that she hoped to sell to pay her rent. Savage, one of a handful of women there that morning, said she has been coming Union Station off and on for 10 years.

"I've applied for general relief, but until I get it, this is the only way I get food," she said.

Union Station, the only soup kitchen in the San Gabriel Valley, has served breakfast and/or lunch to between 100 and 150 needy people daily since 1973. Growing numbers of indigent people have outgrown the dilapidated building and outworn their welcome in the nearby Civic Center that is fabled for its classic architecture and gardens.

Union Station's leaders thought they had a solution two years ago when they bought a site a mile away and proceeded with plans to build a larger structure, which would include sleeping accommodations for 60. But the owners of several businesses near the proposed site in an industrial area have sued the city to stop the move, claiming that locating a shelter there would violate city land-use ordinances and environmental regulations.

A Pasadena Superior Court ruled in favor of the relocation in January, 1986, and the opponents have appealed. The state Court of Appeal will hear the case on March 26.

If the business owners win, Union Station's leaders say they will continue to work with the city to get approval for the shelter because the present facility cannot meet increasing demands.

Meanwhile, complaints about Union Station have increased in recent months as growing numbers of indigent people loiter around the buildings and gardens of City Hall and the public library, both less than a block away, and the courthouse and its small grassy park across the street.

Most of the complaints revolve around litter, panhandling and abuse of public facilities. Employees in the courthouse have gone as far as to lock some restrooms in an effort to keep transients out.

In answer to the complaints, Union Station two weeks ago began opening at 7 a.m., two hours before breakfast is served, in an effort to get the transients off the street.

"Most people in Pasadena never saw this city as a Skid Row kind of place," said Bill Doulos, director of Union Station. He said that for much of its existence, the agency has served as "an invisible ministry" that began for a handful of elderly men living in old downtown hotels and rooming houses.

"People didn't want to know about us," Doulos said. "There was not the public awareness that exists now."

But with growing numbers of jobless and mentally ill people who cannot take care of themselves, Doulos said, "we have to live up to our social responsibility and not send them on to the next town."

"I wonder how long society can maintain its intense interest (in the indigent)," he said. "We want to be prepared for the day when the homeless won't be on the cover of Time and Newsweek. We have to strike while the iron's hot, because the problem will be persistent for a long time.

"There's a little trendiness in the issue of homelessness. People want to do something and do it now. This is an ideal time to be building our new building."

Founded by All Saints Episcopal Church in 1973 in a small store, Union Station started with a monthly budget of $200 and one volunteer director. Now in its third site, its 1987 budget is $300,000 and it has 10 paid employees.

While Union Station has grown continually through the years, Doulos said the number of homeless and needy began to rise dramatically in 1980 and now may be leveling off.

Sponsored by Churches

The soup kitchen is now sponsored by seven downtown Pasadena churches that have support from 50 other churches in surrounding cities.

More than 200 volunteers work three-hour shifts and help clean up the litter that accumulates in the neighborhood. Several volunteer donors supply it with regular gifts of food.

Doulos said that unlike the growing number of homeless, most people who frequent Union Station rent rooms or apartments but do not have enough money for food.

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