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Learning Matters: Housing issues keep growing in Glendale

Housing is a hot topic in Glendale, as it is in many cities in California.

Anxieties cover the spectrum, from the worries of the homeless to the concerns of homeowners that developments will alter the character of their neighborhoods.

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In between are the growing needs of an aging population, many of whom will require some sort of supportive housing; individuals with disabilities seeking independent living arrangements; and all the low-income renters — many with children — who worry that their next rent increase will send them packing.

I spoke with a number of the "housing insecure" — those on the edge of homelessness — over the last few weeks at the Sunday Lunch program hosted by area churches.

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Their stories — like all our stories — are unique, but right now they share a focus on housing.

One man, who asked to remain nameless, will be 74 in April, and currently spends a lot of time on public buses and subways.

Recently hospitalized for a chronic condition, he's doing better now, thanks to Medicare, and is thinking about returning to Las Vegas, where he once lived for a time.

The rents are cheaper there, he said, and he might find something for $400 to $500 per month.

He has a friend who found a place in a downtown L.A. motel that had been converted to supportive housing, but he didn't know of any such options locally.

Shirley and Tommy, a considerably younger couple receiving supplemental security income and state disability benefits, said they'd been approved for a "coordinated entry" program, in which rent up to $1,000 per month will be covered for two years, but it's up to them to find the appropriate rental unit.

They've been checking out vacancies since last August and getting responses like, "Oh, no, we're full." They're still sleeping outside or on buses.

Michael, who has often spoken with me about his efforts learning art and music, said he'd been homeless for 27 years before his sister signed him up for Section 8, the federal low-income housing program.

He's been in an apartment for 12 years now and thinks he's gained some wisdom in that time. He suggested I tell the folks who are trying to solve the homeless problem that they should "get some homeless people to advise them. They know what they need."

Jack, once a successful hairdresser in downtown Atlanta, moved to California about 10 years ago, when redevelopment there sent his clients to the suburbs.

At 67, he seems to know pretty well what he needs and how some hotels and motels take advantage of their fixed-income clientele.

He was spending $700 of his $900 in Social Security benefits on hotel rooms, moving every three weeks.

Now he's couch surfing a little more affordably, thanks to a network of individuals offering rooms through the LGBT Center.

But he's thinking of returning to a more settled existence in Alabama.

Larry, a veteran and self-taught theology scholar with more than 20 years of sobriety, has been trying to position himself for the next rent increase since the building where he's lived for years was sold and the rent raised $100.

After hearing from a local homeless services representative that "you have to be homeless before I can do anything for you," he counts himself lucky that he got on the Section 8 list in the city of Los Angeles.

According to Glendale's website, our city's Section 8 waiting list has been closed since 2001, with no new applications taken since then.

Gordon, a longtime participant and friend of the Sunday Lunch program, told me he got on the list back then, when 12,500 people applied.

But a couple years ago, when he inquired about his status on the list, he was told his name wasn't among the 2,300 names remaining.

Luckily for him, he gets occasional acting work and has a studio apartment. But like so many others, he's worried about rent and utilities.

Then there's Carol, who moved in with a friend a year ago after the owner of the apartment building where she'd lived for 41 years announced plans to remodel the building.

She's grateful to the friend, but wonders how long she can manage climbing up and down the 17 stairs at the house. She's 71 and has been battling scoliosis all her life.

For an update on how the housing crisis is affecting schools, I emailed Ilin Magrin, Glendale Unified's assistant director of welfare and attendance.

She emailed back to say that, as of Feb. 26, the district had 99 homeless students and 1,442 parents living with another party, 194 of them due to financial hardship.

I hope Glendale's many residents who argue against the city's "rampant development" will take another look at the real and urgent need for housing.

JOYLENE WAGNER is a past member of the Glendale Unified school board, from 2005 to 2013, and currently serves on the boards of Glendale Educational Foundation and other nonprofit organizations. Email her at jkate4400@aol.com.

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