A California native, city Human Services Commission Chair Jessica Xie grew up in the San Gabriel Valley and has always considered Pasadena her safe haven.
“Driving through the beautiful neighborhoods was my form of catharsis. I knew I would live here one day,” she says, now a Pasadena resident for a little more than three years.
After graduating from UC Santa Cruz, Xie went overseas to live and pursue further studies. A cybersecurity planning and analysis expert, Xie also possesses a master of science degree in entrepreneurship and innovation from the University of Edinburgh Business School.
Since 2014 in Ireland, Xie has participated with Engineers Without Borders, where she led a team to create a food dehydration system to combat food insecurity in Nepal.
“I took every opportunity to travel as I discovered new places that sparked my passion for people,” she said. “I’ve explored more than 10 countries and lived in three. In each of those countries, I made a point to learn about their culture, customs and norms. I wanted to achieve a grounded understanding of how they valued life. I wanted to understand how the systems we had in place in the U.S. differed from other countries and how much that difference weighed.”
When former President Donald Trump was elected, she decided to come back to the U.S. She says like many women of color, she has experienced America “the other half hasn’t,” and understood what she felt was the danger Trump posed to her community.
“I wanted to fight against everything he stood for, but more importantly, I wanted to make sure my community was safe,” she said.
Settling in Pasadena, she reached out to city officials to see if there were any opportunities where she could help the community. In July 2019, she was sworn in as a member of the Human Services Commission representing Pasadena’s District 7.
Not long after, she became the commission’s chair.
“The best part of being a human services commissioner is the incredible people I get to collaborate and exchange ideas with, such as Mayor Victor Gordo, Vice Mayor Andy Wilson, Bill Huang, director of housing, as well as other changemakers who have worked tirelessly to support the city and the commission,” Xie relates.
“We have a dedicated commission filled with thought leaders from various backgrounds, all with the common goal of creating a Pasadena for everyone. The greatest challenge so far is navigating through the city’s established priorities, processes, and protocols to implement sustainable data-driven solutions. Luckily, city staff is always there to guide us and lend a helping hand,” she said.
Asked what would be her top three priorities as chair, Xie said she would focus on “unmet needs” in the areas of homelessness, mentoring for young women of color, and LGBT health and human services.
“There are at least 500 homeless citizens in Pasadena and one in every 16 Pasadenans living in poverty,” she said. “We need to ensure the city leverages time-sensitive federal and state funding to invest in long-term, sustainable solutions that place folks on a direct path to permanent housing while meeting their basic needs. Our commission aims to work closely with the Housing Department, as well as its homeless service providers, to adopt the commission’s proposal in establishing a bridge-housing community.”
For young women of color, she said the commission will work on helping them navigate through workplace dynamics, identify job opportunities, and strategize their career paths. The Human Services Commission is collaborating with the Commission on the Status of Women, along with African American/Black sorority chapters within the city, to provide mentorship opportunities for women.
And for members of the LGBTQ+ community, Xie said there is a need to address their basic access to healthcare.
“Eliminating LGBTQ+ disparities and enhancing efforts to improve their mental and physical health is necessary to ensure all LGBTQ+ individuals can lead long healthy lives,” she said. “In addition to publishing LGBTQ+ resources on the Public Health Department’s website, the commission is collaborating with the San Gabriel Valley LGBT Center, Quest Center at PCC, and Mi Centro in Boyle Heights to determine the best way forward to create a move inclusive community.”
Xie also acknowledged 2020 was a rough year for all Pasadena residents and businesses. With every company and organization having to ensure they had a secure infrastructure so employees could work from home and business could continue, many initiatives were put on hold. But it does not mean the city and the community have lost focus on the things that need to be done.
“They, like many Americans, were balancing working from home, paying the bills, managing their households, ensuring food was on the table while doing their best to fulfill their commitments to the city,” she said.
For 2021, Xie said she hopes she and other members of the commission could “reignite the focus and drive within our commissioners and our community.”
“We have some incredible initiatives this year, and there’s no greater group of people I can think of to accomplish these goals,” she said. “We’ve pinpointed some big issues in our work plan, which includes addressing issues within the LGBTQ+ community; ensuring equity, diversity, and inclusion in the delivery of human services; creating mentorship opportunities to women of color; developing innovative solutions to address homelessness; and overseeing the Office of the Young Child.”
Xie said the Human Services Commission is actively encouraging community members to reach out to them if there’s an issue related to Pasadena’s human services.
“I would love to learn more and connect you to the right resources,” she said. “Everybody’s story is important.”