Apologetic, the man known by “Cowboy,” told his visitors to excuse the mess as he removed a sweatshirt from a sofa while inviting the group into his tiny quarters.
A battery-operated light and clock hung from a cement wall, papers were spread across the ground, joining a collection of photos and other items in the small space. Some food was tucked away into a corner next to a bed along with a few blankets and little more to protect the elderly man from the freezing cold and rain on this winter night.
From floor to ceiling, the height of the place he calls home measures only about five feet, a bit uncomfortable while asking inhabitants to crouch or bend down to move around the tight quarters.
“I don’t have everything, but what I do have, I have the best of,” said the friendly soul, who lives under a roadway, out of everybody’s way in South Pasadena’s Arroyo Park.
You could call him homeless but, for 10 years now, “Cowboy” has been residing at the spot, taking care of the small piece of property like it’s his own, even though it rests on the border between South Pasadena and Los Angeles. One step in either direction and you’re in a different city. Most days he sounds like any homeowner with problems around the house. “Boy, you should have seen the water rushing by,” he said, talking about recent rains that created a river-like setting just outside what he call’s his front door. “It was crazy down here.”
In good spirits, despite the cold, 40-degree nighttime conditions, “Cowboy” came out smiling when he heard the voices of those who called his name – South Pasadena Police Department officers, Sergeant Shannon Robeldo and Acting Corporal Randy Wise.
On this night, Robledo and Wise were part of a cadre of volunteers, staff workers and law enforcement throughout the county teaming up for the annual census count of the homeless. On assignment, Wise and Robledo, showing their sympathetic side, patrolled the City of South Pasadena tallying the number of homeless. As Robledo and Wise drove through town, they offered those in need “care bags,” which included clothing, blankets, water, raingear, hygiene products and a laminated list of resources where those without a home can get help.
“We estimate there are about 15 homeless in South Pasadena,” explained Robledo, although on this particular night they spotted only eight. He often refers individuals seeking help to the Holy Family Food Bank in South Pasadena for a meal and to Union Station in Pasadena for shelter.
“It’s only natural to care about people,” said Robledo, who has a real empathy toward those down on luck. “Who doesn’t want to see someone succeed?”
City leaders, noted Robledo, are strongly behind the local police department, looking to help those seeking a helping hand. “I’m so happy they are so supportive of us making this effort,” he said. “A lot of us are only a paycheck away from being homeless and it’s our duty to give them the right resources. It’s a city-wide issue where everyone needs to do the right thing and help them out.”
Wise added: “The truth is, with the experience of a police officer, you see all sides of the situation. We simply want to help them. Some don’t want your help, but you still offer it. But a time comes when they realize they really do need help and we’re there for them. You kind of build a relationship with them.”
He stressed that the empathy stretches beyond himself and Robledo. “It’s department wide,” noting that every officer on the SPPD 35-member force shows compassion to those without a home. “We recognize the problem and care.”
The City of South Pasadena along with all the other cities in the county, numbering about 88, participated in the annual homeless count. “This is an important issue to the city, but also very important to the region, particularly the county of Los Angeles,” said South Pasadena City Manager Sergio Gonzalez. “It is estimated that LA has the largest homeless population in the country.”
The City of South Pasadena doesn’t offer the same homeless services of larger cities like Pasadena and Los Angeles, “but we do have a pretty good program where our city’s police department takes the lead to not only document where the homeless in our town live, but provide referrals for services,” he said “It’s another example of how our city’s police department goes above and beyond the call of duty. We care about helping our homeless population.”
And many of those, including the likeable “Cowboy,” feel blessed as a result. “These two guys have been great to me,” he said, pointing to Robledo and Wise. “I appreciate their help. They bring me food, blankets, socks and hygiene items.”