A Bird’s Eye View – Compassionate Action Needed in Pasadena, California

Evening at the Pasadena, California City Hall
Evening at the Pasadena, California City Hall

A few months ago as I was about to become a momma bird, I spent time flying the airwaves in my valley.  I was looking for a place to build a nest for my upcoming family. I had heard good things about the city of Pasadena so I spent many hours flying back and forth in the cool of the evening: north and south, east and west, to see what I could find out about this notable city.

Right away I could see that it was a larger city – but not too large – with about 150,000 people living within its borders, mostly scattered through 56,500 homes. As I researched, I found that the poverty rate was surprisingly high at 15.5% of the population and I wondered at that. I knew that the amount of money a person could make to be considered low-income was about $50,000 per year, and that the average annual income for residents is about $76,000. On the other hand, the median price for purchasing a home in Pasadena is over $900,000. I became perplexed. How could someone living under the poverty rate (15% of the people!) or even making an income of over $75,000 per year afford a home that costs over $900,000? These questions caused me to think once again how happy I am to be a bird!

Having said that, I am happy to be a bird. I must admit that in a valley like mine, my fortunes are tied to humans. Humans are the ones that decide if their air is clean, if the water is clean, how many trees there are and important things like that. And what about happiness? We animals also like to hear cheerful human chatter and laughter much more than distress. We definitely want to stay away from danger in all its forms! So as an expectant mom seeking to be wise, I continued on my quest to understand the city of Pasadena.

As I traversed the sky, I began to notice a very disturbing sight and the alarm inside of my heart began to sound. As I flew, I counted not less than 500 (and maybe more!) people sleeping outside on the ground! I wondered about this since I knew there were at least 4,300 “affordable housing units” in Pasadena. But somehow these people sleeping on the ground weren’t able to live in these units? Perhaps there wasn’t enough room? Even humans need nests!

I asked my best bird friend (who had been living in Pasadena for quite some time) about the number of people sleeping outside.  She told me that many of those who were sleeping outside were people suffering with different issues in their life. Some, she said, were struggling with mental illness.“There are 92 in-patient beds in the city for those needing care focused on mental health.But there seems to be a breakdown in how to get those from the street into those beds and into care,” she pondered. Also, she said that although there are at least 5 in-patient addiction treatment centers in Pasadena, “the same problem seems to exist in terms of those on the street experiencing trouble with addiction – there are missing links to getting them care.” That made me very sad indeed, and as a soon-to-be momma bird, I hoped that my children would never face such need and not be able to find a way for help.

As I began to think about the struggles that my children might face, I wondered if they would ever be caught up in doing something that would get them into trouble and what the response from the local police department would be if they did.  When I brought up the police in the city, my friend told me that the department in Pasadena receives over 340,000 calls annually from the community and that the police themselves responded to over 1,800 mental health interventions just last year! I wondered if the police were the best resource for one suffering from a mental health emergency, but she said that she didn’t know of another agency that would take those calls. She also said for those that commit crimes in Pasadena there is a jail that can hold 105 people at a time. I gave an involuntary little shudder at that number of beds inside of a jail, and I remember hoping that it wasn’t ever necessary to be full!

On another day as I flew, I noticed many neighborhoods in Pasadena seemed old and beautiful with large trees for nesting and many people peacefully walking and greeting each other with their dogs on long leashes. There was a gorgeous arroyo with a beautiful stadium and a lovely, graceful bridge on the west side of the city as well. As the sun went down, I flew north and west and found more old, beautiful neighborhoods – but something was wrong! The streets were undergoing some sort of trauma! I saw many flashing red lights and heard loud sirens and I felt fear rise up in me as I flew!

I noticed candles burning on the ground, across the street from a park, burning at what looked like a vigil. I heard the sounds of crying and saw tears, even on children’s faces. I noticed looks of fear, sadness, disbelief, and anger mixed in with determination on the faces of adults. Had these people being mistreated in some way? I heard the words “shot”, “murder at the hands of police”!  A human life had been taken! As a pang of grief entered my heart, suddenly I saw more flashing lights and then metallic, amplified voices issuing harsh commands. I had to fly with all my strength to quickly get out of the way of a helicopter that came pushing through the air, sounding loud and frightening!

Being such a small bird, and with little ones on the way, I knew it was best for me to seek shelter with the rest of my family. But as I rose higher and higher above the park and the helicopter, I became more and more upset. From the air, with all the lights and the noise, it looked like a terrible open wound showing itself on the body of a loved one – red and inflamed! I began to cry out, “What would be done to heal this wound!?” Who was being dispatched to make sure that there was justice in regard to the life that had been taken? Where would the comfort for the people come from? Would there be enough compassion in the city to dress and care for this profoundly agonizing wound? Who would work to put things to right? How would the city become whole again? I felt dizzy with all these unanswered questions….

After a deep rest from all of my reconnaissance, I reflected on the city I had explored. It seemed to be largely full of beauty and grace. There were so many lovely streets and homes and even the hospital there, with 619 beds, looked like such a beautiful structure. I reflected on the many churches I had seen, the beautiful City Hall building and the Civic Center, and the many lovely schools and campuses within the city’s borders. And there were also at least 24 hotels! I remembered that my friend had mentioned to me that Pasadena was a generally hospitable city, holding many events, including a large parade each New Year’s Day! In fact, just those 24 hotels had room enough to hold over 5,500 guests at any one time!

She also told me that the city elected a mayor and city council members that meet each week to seek the welfare of the city. I wondered about those that I had counted sleeping on the street as I flew, all seeming to need a way to connect to services that could compassionately help them! I pondered whether the city leaders were working to help these people. But what grieved me the most was what I had witnessed that night with the lights and loud commands: the pain, suffering and the cries of “shooting at the hands of the police”. This was a most grievous situation and I felt overwhelmed by the reality of what I had seen. What could I, a mere tiny bird, do to help? Perhaps if many of Pasadena’s people banded together to address these things, more compassion could be brought to this city… Perhaps the wounds would be healed with focus and unity of purpose of leadership and residents together…  As I pondered, I realized that I was also praying that justice and compassion would be the guiding stars in the city of Pasadena.