What to Know
- Tony Zee is the fist and only firefighter in Pasadena to partner with the public health department to fight homelessness.
- Zee and a team of other members from the public health department visit the homeless five days a week to speak with them and help.
- In February, Pasadena announced plans to spend nearly $5.7 million in grants to address homelessness and search for solutions.
For firefighter Tony Zee, the fight doesn't end when the flames are extinguished.
In Los Angeles County, where the homeless population exceeds over 50,000 people, Zee was compelled to go beyond the line of duty. He has become the first and only firefighter in Pasadena to partner with the public health department and reach out to those on the streets.
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"This could be a good way for us to get them off the streets or even maybe someone to talk to," Zee said. "Someone that could help them reunite with their families."
Zee and a team from the public health department visit the homeless five days a week to speak with them and make sure they're taking the right steps to recovery.
"Other people ask questions but they don't really care what the answer is," said Ronald Cisneros, a homeless man living in Pasadena. "He does. He goes the extra mile."
Cisneros suffered from drug addiction and was surrounded by the wrong people when he met Zee. Their first encounter came when Zee found Cisneros alone in a parking lot next to a vacant building.
"I was down on my dumps," he said.
After getting to know Zee and his team, Cisneros' path to recovery became clearer.
"If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging," he said.
After a steep decline between 2011 and 2016, the homeless count in Pasadena rose slightly last year, according to a 2018 homeless count by the Pasadena Partnership. The report says that there were 677 homeless people in the city in 2018, more than half of whom were living on the street.
In February, Pasadena announced plans to spend nearly $5.7 million in grants to address homelessness.
By working on the ground, Zee and his team are contributing to this citywide effort at a more personal level.
"Sometimes it takes us a while to build that rapport and have that relationship," said Angelica Palmeros of the city's health department. "But eventually they get to see that we are consistent and that's the important part."
Zee said he hopes to expand the group, hopefully with another firefighter and nurse.
"Hopefully in time the city will see what we are doing and see its worth," Zee said. "The more we can do the better it is."