The Bad Weather Shelter in Pasadena, run by nonprofit Friends in Deed, is a place where the homeless can find refuge and resources during the winter months.
It first opened its doors in 1986 after a homeless man died from hypothermia on the streets of Pasadena.
The shelter opens when the overnight temperatures are forecasted to be below 40 degrees or when there is a 40 percent chance of rain. It ensures that Pasadena’s homeless population has somewhere to go to escape the elements, and it has surely saved lives.
Though Southern California is set to have a relatively warm, dry winter this year, the shelter is still an important resource. It will be open from January through March.
Friends in Deed Executive Director Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater stressed the importance of having resources to address homelessness, a problem that continues to grow in cities across the region.
“The challenge here is that if I was open every night, we’d be full every night and I wouldn’t even be able to take everyone because we only have 140 cots,” Grater said. “This is just a huge problem in society. It is certainly a national crisis.”
An essential part of the work that Friends in Deed does at the signup each night is to cook a meal and serve it to those staying in the shelter.
“The volunteers are like the engine and anyone who volunteers here often will say, ‘I get way more than I give,’” Grater said.
This year, the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys plans to host one night at the shelter. And they’re looking for volunteers.
Debby Singer, PJ Library Program Coordinator for the Jewish Federation, is coordinating the effort. Singer serves on the board for Friends in Deed and said their programs seemed a perfect match for the Jewish Federation’s commitment to the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam.
“It’s a central value of Judaism and we are a Jewish organization, and part of our role is to help make this world we live in a better place,” Singer said. “My personal opinion is it needs to be the key motivating factor in almost everything we do. We all know the world needs lots of fixing right now.”
Volunteers would cook a meal and then serve it at the shelter on the designated night. Volunteers would only be needed if the weather conditions are such that the shelter opens on that night.
Grater said working at the shelter and seeing how the most vulnerable in the community are living can be eye-opening.
“I’ve never had a day of my life where I was at want for something or was hungry and couldn’t eat,” Grater said. “These are folks who are coming in and it’s cold and/or raining and they know in 12 hours they will have to go back out there… Once you see a face it becomes a real story not just a statistic.”
Even just being friendly and smiling at someone in the line for food can make them feel human, he added.
“I hope it gives (the volunteers) a sense of what it’s like and when they are back in their lives and see some of these folks, maybe someone they recognize from the shelter, maybe they will see them a little differently,” Grater said. “That makes all the difference.”
If the shelter doesn’t open on the chosen night, Singer said she hopes to volunteer a group from the Jewish Federation next year. Plus, there are plenty of other ways to get involved with Friends in Deed and other Tikkun Olam programs through the Jewish Federation.
Grater said another way to help is to get more involved in the political decisions being made by local elected officials about social issues like the lack of affordable housing, a key driver of homelessness.
Feeding the homeless and putting a roof over their heads when it’s cold or rainy is great, he said, but getting to the root of the problem will take a greater effort.
“Service is amazing and our volunteers here are amazing and dedicated and want to do this and love these people that they are serving,” Grater said. “But to make a difference to end this problem, in addition to service days and mitzvah days and food drives, I need all those people at the city council and the planning commission meetings to help argue that we want more affordable housing.”
He added, “We need both. We need the volunteers who serve but we also need these activists. We are not going to service project and food drive our way out of the problem.”
Grater says Friends in Deed has programs on all levels for people to get involved in to make a difference and welcomes more involvement from the community.
Going forward, Singer said she hopes to partner with Friends in Deed for more programs.
“The difference I think with Friends in Deed for me is that you see the results of every little thing you do there,” Singer said. “It serves our local community and you see the results right away.”
For more information or to volunteer for the Bad Weather Shelter, call the Jewish Federation at (626) 445-0810 or visit www.jewishsgpv.org.
For more on Friends in Deed, visit www.friendsindeedpas.org.
Lauren Gold is a contributing writer to Jlife.