News

The Opportunity Center takes stock

Center for Palo Alto's homeless marks five years of service

The five-story, brick-red building with brushed-metal balconies at 33 Encina Way could be a modern condominium complex or office building housing a Palo Alto start-up. But its sign, in block letters, speaks of the hope it was established to offer the city's homeless men, women and children: Opportunity Center.

Inside a courtyard, on a Thursday around noon, people picked over clothing on a folding table; others pulled belongings from a row of storage lockers. In a community room, job seekers sat transfixed in front of computer monitors, while other homeless men and women relaxed, knowing no one would tell them to move along.

A nearby meeting was punctuated by cheers and clapping, as members of the Downtown Streets Team -- which employs homeless people to clean Palo Alto streets in exchange for food and housing vouchers -- received accolades for jobs well done. Hopeful visitors to the daily drop-in services center hung around, waiting for a possible space on the team. A woman, fresh from a visit with her caseworker, emerged in tears.

The Opportunity Center opened five years ago in September to offer homeless and at-risk people housing and services that would help them get off the streets and on with their lives. Located next to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, it currently features four floors of apartments -- mostly 100-square-foot studios -- and a ground floor with a medical clinic and two separate service areas for adults and families.

Its opening was historic. Up until then, the city's homeless would gather for four hours each weekday outside the American Red Cross building by the University Avenue train station for food, coffee, bus vouchers, mail and other necessities.

"The initial idea was to find a permanent indoor drop-in center," said Dr. Donald Barr, a Stanford associate professor of sociology and human biology who in 1998 convened the first meeting of what would become the Community Working Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing affordable housing and services to homeless and at-risk persons and families.

But as Community Working Group members began talking with city officials about homeless services, the idea morphed into a housing-and-services center. Known as "housing first," the idea was to provide unhoused people with the stability of shelter so that their efforts could be directed to addressing other problems and obtaining jobs.

"A 'housing first' model had not been done in this area at this time. It was a fairly long learning curve," Barr said recently.

It was not without controversy, as local residents feared that a full-service center, with housing, would attract more homeless people to the city.

That dire prediction has not borne out, as bi-annual counts of the city's homeless population have actually shown a 50 percent decrease from 2005 to 2011 -- from 341 sheltered and unsheltered persons to 151, according to the Santa Clara County Homeless Census and Survey.

And yet, the road has been bumpy, Opportunity Center staff are the first to admit. Simply providing the stability of housing doesn't in and of itself address the root causes of homelessness: medical conditions, disability, job loss, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and lack of affordable housing.

And given the instability of the population living in the center's 88 units and stopping by each day for services, problems were bound to occur. There have been complaints about noise and disturbances in and around the Opportunity Center, and sometimes people fall through the cracks and don't receive the available services, staff and police said.

But with adjustments in conventional thinking, many people involved with the center said the lessons learned are paying off.

"I see a lot of people who are more stable," said Lisa Douglass, director of the Stanford Law School Social Security Disability Pro Bono Project, who represents clients in disability-benefits hearings and appeals.

And though it has taken time, about 120 people who have lived in the Opportunity Center since its opening have moved on to permanent housing, with scores more finding jobs and receiving help for their problems, according to staff.

---

For Kathy Kronquist, 48, and Robert McDonnell, 43, a journey that began in 2006 finally ended with a one-bedroom apartment on Emerson Street on Oct. 1.

The couple has lived in a single room with a bath at the Opportunity Center since 2006 and was among the earliest tenants. Kronquist was relatively new to homelessness. McDonnell had been living in his car for four years, he said.

"My husband committed suicide in 2003. I lost everything; I couldn't afford the rent. That's when I became homeless," Kronquist said.

McDonnell said he and his father were asked to leave a relative's house in Pacifica.

"I was working for Avis Rent-A-Car to make payments on my truck so I had a place to stay," he said.

Kronquist's situation might not have been so precarious had she been able to get disability benefits, but like many homeless people, she didn't have a paper trail and was rejected, she said.

A surprising number of people who are eligible for entitlements are not receiving them, Douglass said.

And yet, said Opportunity Center Program Director Philip Dah, the benefits are key to some people moving out of homelessness.

"So much hinges on these benefits. These are monies that people have paid into. It would be very difficult for her to access that money without lawyers," he said.

The Opportunity Center helps clients such as Kronquist to obtain old high school records, medical records and testing to show they have a disability. A team involving a caseworker, medical staff and others assist in assembling a history for the client, Douglass said.

Stanford Law School volunteers helped Kronquist and about 60 others to obtain benefits they were eligible to receive, she said. Out of all of those claims only two were rejected at the hearing level, she said.

After three years of having their rent subsidized at the Opportunity Center, Kronquist began paying through her disability benefits. McDonnell contributed to the $707 per month rent by working as a crossing guard at Duveneck Elementary School, he said.

Getting Section 8 vouchers, the next step in moving out for the couple, often takes years, Dah said. Kronquist and McDonnell recently qualified for Section 8, enabling them to move out after five years.

"We've been on the (Section 8) list for seven years. We just picked up the voucher the other day," McDonnell said.

---

Since opening its doors, the Opportunity Center's management has had to reconcile many times between theory and the realities of the complex human condition, Dah said.

"The first two years were difficult. People had different expectations. In Palo Alto there were residents who thought that once the homeless were here all of their problems would be solved," he said.

But staff found that the public's hope to see 40 alcoholics regularly gathering in a room for a 12-step program never materialized. Many Opportunity Center clients didn't feel comfortable in workshop settings. And a small number of the city's homeless are not comfortable with coming to the center at all, he said.

Fifteen people showed up at a workshop explaining how to have one's criminal record expunged, but after being tasked with bringing records from the court, only three returned, he said.

Incentives were offered: gift cards and vouchers for attending meetings.

"They took them and left and didn't participate," he said.

What has worked are one-on-one sessions. Clients will return for those. Sometimes it takes three or four meetings before someone is ready to open up, Douglass said.

"When you've taken that half-hour to really listen, you start to really learn about their needs. You build a great relationship," she said.

Staff also learned they can't solve all the problems, Dah said.

Helping people with diverse needs and abilities is a difficult balancing act, he said. While one person may be ready to find a job, another needs treatment for his schizophrenia.

"We have to make sure that people don't fall through the cracks. For some folks who are really mentally ill, there is not much we can do if they don't comprehend the effort. You have to give them the basics: clothing, food, shelter," he said.

The reality is that those people probably won't be plucked off the streets and put into affordable housing at the Opportunity Center -- at least not until they are evaluated and given medications to regain stability so they can receive assistance.

So the center staff learned, within the first couple of years, to put many of its efforts into what it can do best, Dah said. In short, focusing on the people who could -- with help -- help themselves.

"We have to identify people with whom we can achieve success," Dah said, adding that people must be willing to work on getting off the street.

"I think with that new strategy we have gotten a lot of people housed, with jobs and benefits," he said. Of the 348 current and previous Opportunity Center tenants, 120 have moved on to more permanent housing.

Homeless people who are seeking services don't always agree with those priorities, however, and say they feel they're not getting the services they need. One man who lives in his car said he felt services are given to people who have mental or drug issues but not to those who are homeless because they have lost their jobs.

Dah has said the center's services are open to all, but he reiterated to the Weekly that the center has had to focus on getting housing for those people who are ready. The majority of people living at the center are disabled, for example, and with help getting their benefits, some will be able to move out, he said.

---

People familiar with the Opportunity Center acknowledge that problems exist but credit the staff with trying to keep them under control.

Palo Alto Police Chief Dennis Burns said when the Opportunity Center first opened police received a number of calls.

"There were some disturbances, some fights, but that has subsided significantly in the last couple of years. The Opportunity Center has drawn more vehicle and pedestrian traffic, as it is a destination. This has caused some traffic and parking issues. Noise issues occur with some regularity as well," he said.

Dr. Lars Osterberg, who collaborated with Barr to bring health care services to the center in 2004, recognized the public's perception of a center for the homeless.

"The NIMBYism was quite prevalent in the beginning and still exists. This is a common phenomenon in the development of homeless services, since people in the community have concerns about these being a magnet for the homeless and some of the problems this can bring. With help from important community members and adequate security, I think some of the concerns have been mitigated; however, some still exist," Osterberg said.

Dr. Francis Marzoni, executive vice president of Palo Alto Medical Foundation, recalled early worries about being located next to the center.

"We had concerns about the center's clients during the planning stages and met with (the Community Working Group), the city and the Palo Alto Police Department to see how we might mitigate them. Several of our concerns have been validated. We have had to beef up security, and we continue to work with the operators of the center. I think the center's staff does what they can to get the day users to follow the rules, and their residents have been great, with few exceptions," he said.

Aldo Gomez, manager at AutoPride Hand Wash, which is near the Opportunity Center, said the establishment has had a number of issues with people voiding after the business has closed for the evening. Some people also use benches reserved for staff breaks to do drugs, he said.

"We have to tell them to stay out of the property," he said of people crossing dangerously in front of cars at the carwash. But he said he has attended a couple of community meetings held by the Community Working Group and Dah has been very responsive to the issues, which have been getting better, he said.

On Wednesday morning, an argument broke out on the sidewalk on Encina Way, but Judy Frost, who owns Judith A. Frost Company said the occasional minor disruptions are quickly resolved by staff.

"I would have to say they have been good neighbors. If we've had an issue one or two times, we call Philip and he takes care of it," she said.

Frost echoed the sentiments of many merchants, including those at nearby Town & Country Village shopping center.

"Please don't put them in a negative light. They are trying really hard to do good work," she said.

Many Town & Country merchants also said they support the Opportunity Center. When it was first proposed merchants attended city meetings to voice their concern. But there have been few issues, they said.

"We've had a few incidents, but Palo Alto Police Department and Town & Country Village security have always been real prompt in responding," said Scott's Seafood General Manager Kim Ryberg.

"I don't have people sleeping in my doorway; I don't have people accosting my customers," she said.

One man does persistently use profanity when asked to move away while panhandling, but she said he was the exception. Ryberg also cautioned against attributing any homeless persons who might frequent the shopping center to the Opportunity Center.

"I don't know that they are from the Opportunity Center. I don't know if they'd be here if the Opportunity Center was here or not," she said.

Charne Morris, manager at Howie's Artisan Pizza, said that a homeless couple dines at the restaurant about once weekly and they are always polite and quiet, she said.

Ironically "we did get one report from security that someone was harassing a homeless person. It happened through the window here," she said.

Burns said that staff has largely controlled the problems.

"The Community Working Group has been very proactive ... with the neighborhood to discuss issues and develop solutions. The staff is more than qualified to handle disagreements and to set fair expectations," Burns said.

On a recent September afternoon Dah demonstrated that commitment after a woman began shouting outside the drop-in center. Dah rose from his interview and within moments the disturbance was quelled.

Drinking, drugs and disturbing or inappropriate behavior are not allowed at the center, and violators are asked to leave the premises, he said after returning, adding that he asks people to leave the drop-in center if he smells alcohol on someone's breath. The stringent enforcement is an incentive for good behavior, he said.

The center also expects apartment tenants to be drug- and alcohol-free. However, it cannot legally force people to engage in rehabilitation programs as a condition of receiving housing, some of which is subsidized but most of which rents for between $393 and $1,137 a month per room, depending on the person's income. Some people might use drugs or alcohol in their apartments, Dah said.

Staff also can't force residents to get help for other personal problems.

In the center's adult wing, a man was sleeping on the rug in front of the community room television recently. Debra Chavez, a case manager for adults, called his name loudly, but the man did not stir.

"He doesn't want to go into his room," Chavez said. "He is a hoarder, and his room is packed with stuff. There are three or four of them we are working with."

---

Given the issues of the homeless population, there was never a quantifiable goal of getting a certain number of people off the street with a specified period of time. But Osterberg said the Opportunity Center has been quite effective.

"Many clients have benefited from the services, and the range of services is critical for the types of clients seen. It is hard to measure all the benefits that the center has accomplished, but I know many stories of clients who would not be where they are now if not for the Opportunity Center. Some individuals and families I know would not have survived if it wasn't for the center. I also know of several people who are now productive members of society living on their own after having been supported from the Opportunity Center," he said.

John Chang, 32, said he would still be homeless if it weren't for the Opportunity Center and the Downtown Streets Team. He became homeless in July 2008 and remained so until December 2010 after losing his job, he said. He used the drop-in center services but did not live at the center.

Chang found work through a temporary-employment agency and worked for Sears, Sprint and Google before a medical condition and surgery made work difficult, he said.

Joining the Downtown Streets Team, Chang earned food and housing vouchers. He became the first person to receive a Section 8 voucher through the program and now lives in an apartment in Sunnyvale, he said.

Chang said that while the Opportunity Center worked to get him out of the quagmire of homelessness, some programs don't push to make people change. Chang said he thinks that while offering people housing, food and other services, each program should urge people to seek jobs or address other issues that led to their homelessness so that they will eventually unplug from supportive assistance.

He is still in Section 8 housing, but with education and a better paying job, he does not intend to use the services forever, he said.

"Some people, they get housing and they want to stay their entire lives. Some programs are good -- they hold people accountable. If they aren't accountable, they rely on it. Some (programs) are a crutch. Section 8 can be housing for life," he said.

Chang has a job at a fast-food restaurant now and is working on his bachelor's degree in biochemistry at DeAnza and West Valley colleges. He wants to become a doctor, he said.

"There's a stigma about homeless people -- that they're all alcoholics or drug users. They're not. I want to be a model, a poster child for how homeless people can be successful," he said.

Related story:

Seeking stability

Comments

Posted by Michele, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 14, 2011 at 11:00 am

Hats off to the wonderful Opportunity Center staff and facility. I personally have assisted a young man to get help here, and so have become more familiar with its services. They have done a great job helping him. While he is still unemployed, the medical assistance alone has been priceless. Thank you so much.


Posted by L.V. Krogh, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 14, 2011 at 12:31 pm

I live at the "O.C." and while not perfect, it has changed my life significantly. -Lorin Krogh


Posted by mj, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Like Michele above, I too helped a homeless young man find accommodation at the Opportunity Center. He grew up around here, but shortly after graduating from high school his parents fell on hard times, moved away (to an area where there no employment), and have been unable to help him. It's hard to find work when you are sleeping rough and on your own. Being offered accommodation and support at the OC has changed his life. Because of the stability, medical services (not for substance abuse), and other help provided by the OC, this young man is now employed, pays rent, and can support himself. I can't imagine what his future would have been like without the OC.


Posted by Diana, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 14, 2011 at 4:06 pm

I'd also like to credit InnVision the Way Home, the non-profit organization that provides many of the family and youth services at the Opportunity Center. They are doing so much to make sure the young residents have great daily experiences with homework help, arts & crafts, and exercise. They do a wonderful job!


Posted by WeNeedShelter, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 14, 2011 at 10:01 pm

There are many prople sleeping in our parks and garages. We need a shelter for those people. The OC does not help those who need the most. There are too many rules, and some people are homeless because they cannot follow those rules. Mary Ann Morgan is dead. The OC asked her to leave because of drinking pronlem. She needed help, but she was sent to the She was also part of the downtown street team picking up after the rich Palo Altans. Without a shelter or a place to stay, she died a couple of years ago in downtow Palo Alto. So many people here in PA needs just a dry warm place to sleep. Why don't we have a simple shelter? We don't need anything fancy, just a place for people who needs the most sleep.


Posted by Mom by Gunn High, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 15, 2011 at 2:41 pm

For those of you who would like to experience just what it may be like to be homeless:
Those of you who can~ pretend you just lost your job but still have a car, can't pay the rent: Take your "last" $00 and hit the street in your car with your belongings.
First, you would need to find a place to eventually park your car~ especially if you were planning to have to sleep in it...a place where you would NOT get towed. (Do you have ANY idea where in Palo Alto THAT would be???)
Second. Knowing you don't have much money, putting gas into the car is going to have to be a priority because you have to move it so people will not complain and attract the police to your humble abode.
~deduct from your $00~"kitty money"...
note******Hopefully your registration is current..and insurance is paid up to date. Otherwise, you could and will be cited for no current registration soon and to get your car out of the tow yard will cost you fine monies payable to the City Of Palo Alto, plus the towing fee (approximately $200 for just the first day of being towed. And each day the tow bill gets higher if the car is not redeemed. (Wow, there goes your shelter.) Plus, 30 days later a note will be sent to the registered owner that the car is now in default and if you don't pay the entire months bill, the tow yard will now be the new owner of your vehicle.***** Deduct from your "kitty" again if you have that much available.....*********
Third: Where are you going to shower? Sure, you can use the restrooms at McDonald's for some needs, but fitting into the sink is going to be a problem...and gargling, brushing your teeth in front of strangers gawking at you would be a little awkward...( Are you thinking ~feeling any changes yet?????? This is only the very beginning...you haven't even left your dwelling for an hour yet!)
You still have to figure out how to keep warm, especially if you do NOT have a vehicle. At that point, it's you and your backpack. How long do you think you could survive~ even with a sleeping bag?
~END OF EXPERIENCE~
This thread can NOT EVEN begin to imagine all the different beginnings of how people become homeless..but it obviously happens.
The winter is upon us again~ those unable to still find permanent housing are in for tough times, mentally and physically. Especially those in the cronic stage of homelessness. I have witnessed people being turned away at the OC to be sent back into the cold weather when it was almost freezing outside. I know they can only help so many, but the paperwork takes too long for them~ they are choosy, sometimes with a reason that the person HAS TO HAVE INCOME before housing help is available...those are the people who are left out in the cold and need more help~ getting mental/physical help "somewhere", which is neither offered or referred to them.
I am just stating what I saw, continue to see and it needs to be addressed. There are several homeless that hang out in the courtyard for a small meal everyday, then return into cold oblivion ~ those are the ones who need shelter, those just trying to stay alive. Not all are out to rob your house or desecrate your business. Many need positive direction to choose from but are falling upon deaf ears, so their plight continues~


Posted by Frank, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 15, 2011 at 3:53 pm

I am going rain on this love fest for the homeless. Why should someone from Pacifica, get a room in Palo Alto? Why are we being told that the OC is not a magnet for more homeless? It is! When the OC places a homeless person into outside housing, does that include BMR housing in Palo Alto, which was sold to the public as lower cost housing for our critical city workers?

Go dowtown, or California Ave., and try to tell me that there are fewer street bums than before OC...NO WAY!

"There are too many rules, and some people are homeless because they cannot follow those rules". That's a real nugget...in other words, they are bums, and that is why they are homeless.

Beam me up Scotty...this is all too much!


Posted by WeNeedShelter, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Not everyone is just lazy. Some people have mental and health issues. Some people have no family or are not willing/capable to seek help. You don't know people's story. Talk to people that you find on the streets. Try to learn a little bit about their stories. There are great people who are homeless and cannot find a place to stay during the cold winter nights. We need a shelter. It does not matter if people are from Pacififica or from another country. They are all PEOPLE who needs help.

The OC is a ok, but it is not for the ones that need the most. The food there is like dumpster (no offense OC)... go eat there one meal in your life time and write here your experience. We can do more here in PA. We can do more for people who needs help. NO ONE wants to be homeless. We need a basic shelter where people can crash in when they need. Some programs that are offered in PA does not help at all...

The Downtown Street Team is good for a small, very small group of people, but the majority of people cannot handle the job and the humiliation. People like Mary Ann Morgan is dead and she was at the DTST. Walking with the bright yellow shirts in downtown, picking up after the rich... And only get vouchers as payment. I am not sure this help people's self esteem. It's a very hard job for some people that are facing mental issues. It is a hard job for those who really need the most help.

We need a shelter. We need a place where people can bath. We need to teach them skills that will really help them in the long run. The lady from Netflix, Ms. Elaine Richardson, who runs the program is getting all kinds of recognition for her "great work". But is the DTWT really a good program? Is picking after the rich something that will make people proud of themselves and find a place in this world.

Ms Richardson is loving the awards/recognition she is getting for her program, but she knows her program does not help many. There are only very few exceptions. If she wants to do something for real, she should use her prestige and influence to fight for a shelter. She is so well connected, and the city council people loves her. So, why not do something for real??? Why make people miserable cleaning up after the rich instead of teaching them some real life skills? WHY????

Do the DTWT really need the bright yellow shirts to remind Palo Altans that they are homeless? What other programs could we have to help the people get real work skills?

AND WHY NOT A SHELTER????


Posted by Frank, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 15, 2011 at 10:03 pm

"You don't know people's story."

Yeah, everybody has a story. So what? Why should Palo Alto have to take care of all the sad sacks?


Posted by We are not all rich!, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Oct 16, 2011 at 11:34 am

Please delete the term: "picking up for the rich" from your blogs. It just causes resentment. We are not all rich. Maybe "picking up for the people who worked hard, didn't become addicted, saved for the future" is more truthful. I have no answer for the "unhoused" problem--what happened to the Hotel Zink we had a few years ago. And why is it Palo Alto's problem, not a regional one--Menlo Park, Los Altos, Mountain View, pitch in!


Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2011 at 9:35 am

Well said "We Are Not All Rich." Your take on this is dead on. This article serves to remind us that Palo Alto carries a majority of the burden on the peninsula as it relates to homeless issues. In addition to what sounds like a very busy Opportunity Center, Palo Alto is also home to many other homeless outreach programs. Some examples are the Downtown Streets Team, Hotel DeZink shelter program, and downtown food closet. Additionally, Palo Alto tax payers allocate over $100,000 annually to help fund many of these programs.

Palo Alto has a long history of tolerance, sense of humanity, and generosity. However, there has to be limits and balance when it comes to our level of responsibility on difficult issues such as these. I have to believe that the majority of those being served have few if any ties to our community. Palo Alto has become a magnet for homeless people from throughout the bay area, and with that, certainly not in all cases, comes with more than its share of fallout and problems. Other communities need to pick up some of this burden plan and simple.

Most Palo Altans have worked very hard for what they achieved in life, and should not have to constantly deal with this guilt card that we're being dealt. People earned what they have in life by putting a great value on education and a strong work ethic. I certainly believe in helping those in need, but not to the point where we begin to sacrifice the quality of life that we have worked so hard to create. Like many others, I am tired of dealing with the drunks, drug addicts, panhandlers, passed out people on bus/park benches, urine and defecation in public places, and petty street crime. Again Palo Alto does more than it's share of homeless outreach, and quite frankly, enough is enough.


Posted by Mac Clayton, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 17, 2011 at 10:18 am

Frank,

I fear you may be lost: the corner of "Self-righteous Self-reliance Street" and "Bums Just Want to be Bums Road" is located in some other community.


Posted by JT, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 17, 2011 at 2:21 pm

I remember a time, maybe the 1970s, when Palo Alto didn't have so many homeless people. It was rare to see anyone begging. And rare to read in the paper how a transient was arrested for assaulting somebody.

But it seems that the more things we offered them (whether it was free meals at All Saints Church or free shelter at other churches) we seemed to get more and more homeless.

Now, with the Opportunity Center, there's little chance we'll ever be able to get rid of them. Few of them ever actually lived here, they were just attracted by all the freebees and the dumb people who gave them money for booze and drugs. These are people who have figured out that it's easier to beg than it is to work. And they know that if we try to stop them, the courts will be on their side. Look how much free legal help Victor Frost has gotten over the years from the county Public Defender's office.

I think the homeless advocates are more interested in keeping the homeless problem going (rather than solving it) because to eliminate homelessness would eliminate their jobs. Governments and nonprofits want to increase the number of people who are dependent on handouts.


Posted by WenNeedShelter, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2011 at 5:57 pm

JT, instead of thinking about how much free legal help Victor Frost has gotten over the years, you should ask how much has the city spent to go after him.

Why the city cares so much about what Victor does or does not do with his life? Why they created the "Victor Frost Ordinance"? Why they only target Victor instead of all the other people who are panhandling in PA?

Why did they create a ordinance to protect people from "tripping" while walking on the side walks, and at the same time leaves all the restaurants and other places use the side walk with chairs, stands, and whatever else? Why do we spend so much money pretending that we really care and at the same time we don't help those that need the most?????

WHY we don't have a place so people don't have to sleep in our parks? Why we can't have a simple shelter? Why the city is still after Victor? Instead of spending time and money after a man who just want to live his life alone, why don't we spend the same amount of time and money creating a shelter????


Posted by Frank, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 17, 2011 at 6:18 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by WeNeedShelter, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Frank, you probably don't know Victor Frost. He is a great person. He helps people with his can food drive. He is always cordial and kind. He is NOT an aggressive panhandler.

I think it is time for Palo Altans to leave Victor Alone. It is enough for him to have the city council and the Downtown Business Association after him.

And I hope he wins the next time he runs for city council. Those who are in favor of better service for the homeless community should gather to help Victor get elected. And maybe we can finally get our shelter and people will not have to sleep in our parks and garages.


Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2011 at 11:05 pm

On the subject of Mr. Frost, he was provided with shelter in Redwood City which he chose not to accept. Being the case, I have to seriously question his judgment and motives. He turned down a gracious offer. Beyond that, it is not the responsibility of society to put a roof over his head.

As for the suggestion of Palo Alto building another homeless shelter, once again I have to state that our city already goes above and beyond in terms of providing assistance to those in need. No other community in our region comes even close. It's time for other communities on the peninsula to carry some of the load. The generosity and tolerance of Palo Altans is being taken advantage of and it's time to draw some lines. A society only owes its people an opportunity to succeed in life. If people squander that opportunity, don't expect those who worked hard and made the right decisions in life to bail them out. They are not our responsibility.


Posted by Mom by Gunn High, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 17, 2011 at 11:17 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Mayfield Child, a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 17, 2011 at 11:36 pm

Again: ""There are too many rules, and some people are homeless because they cannot follow those rules". That's a real nugget...in other words, they are bums, and that is why they are homeless."

IN OTHER WORDS...Why was Agnews closed????? Many of the homeless people in this area needed medical help that was supplied at Agnews...The former patients were just TERMINATED and told to hit the streets. Very few were lucky and managed to get into board and care homes. Some just died after being released not knowing how to get along on their own and not having the mental capability to do so......

SHAME ON YOU PEOPLE who have no compassion for those who are ill.


Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 18, 2011 at 12:48 am

I do have compassion, volunteered at shelters, and done my share of outreach work. I also believe that there must be limits on what one community should be expected to provide. I also believe that society should not be held responsible for the many homeless that end up that way due to poor choices they have made. The people who failed to take advantage of educational opportunities or job training, turned to a life of substance abuse, they are not ill in my book. They are simply dealing with the consequences of the choices they made in life. What did they think was going to happen with their life?

I've worked way too hard to get to this humble but stable place in life, and have tried to contribute to my community in a positive manner. I resent those who chose to lead destructive lives and are now jeopardizing the quality of life in our community. Again, they are no our responsibility.


Posted by WeNeedShelter, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 18, 2011 at 8:32 am

An article from today's New York Times:

A different approach to providing housing is having success at convincing the chronic homeless to move inside. Web Link


Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 18, 2011 at 10:04 am

Read the link we-need-shelter, and no, we don't need more government programs that continues to enable people and keep them tied to the public assistance strings. What we need are higher expectations for people, and for those that refuse to take advantage of the many opportunities this country provides, a heavy dose of consequences. A society needs to possess a compassion and willingness to help those truly in need, and for that I am all for. I am afraid however that many of those currently having their lives subsidized by the rest of us are solely responsible for their plight.

Like most people, I worked hard for and earned everything I have in life. I resent having to publicly support those who chose to hinder their existence by making bad life choices. Providing more assistance just gives people an easy way out and takes away their drive, pride, and work ethic.


Posted by Steve C, a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 18, 2011 at 11:13 am

@Mom by Gunn High. Your post pretty much hits the nail on the head, and I appreciate it. Unfortunately, it will be lost on those less fortunate like Frank and JT, who most likely skim the first sentence to get the drift, then move on the their finger-pointing blame games.
It's the chicken and egg question again: do the community facilities attract(read: create) the homeless problem PA is facing, or is there a problem with or without the existence of places like The Opportunity Center?
People don't become homeless by choice, because of the existence of support facilities. Rather, the support facilities "become" because of the existence of the homeless population.
I think you described the downward spiral very succinctly. It's a slippery slope and one false move results in a faster fall.
One thing you didn't address is how difficult it is for those living in their cars and trying to hold down a job. It is equally perilous.
I think all the posters like Frank and JT(and others)should be forced to volunteer at a shelter. If anyone thinks the homeless situation is going to get better, I suspect you are wrong. That is, unless you consider arresting all homeless and warehousing them somewhere an improvement. Who picks up the tab for that?
And if no one helps the homeless, then what? I suspect I know the answer most of the complainers secretly harbor.
Heartlessness is a plague on our country. Save your complaints for the communities which export their problems elsewhere, not for the people trying to solve the problem.


Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 18, 2011 at 11:48 am

To Steve C, as someone who has spent considerable time over the years volunteering with homeless outreach programs, I can agree with you that people may not become homeless "by choice", however, they do end up that way in most cases due to the choices they have made in life. For the large number of homeless that fit into this category, again, I resent the fact that they have to be publicly supported.

I know there is no easy solution to the homeless problem, and there will always be those who truly need our generosity and compassion. No long term solution will be achieved however unless we have higher expectations for people, balanced with consequences for those that "choose" to adopt a destructive lifestyle. Success and self-reliance is achieved by making positive life choices, education, and hard work. This country still provides more opportunities than obstacles. Just ask any immigrant who comes to this country and makes the most of those opportunities. The same opportunities that so many of our homeless citizens squandered away with substance abuse, drug addiction, and crime.

I am not interested nor should I feel obligated to support those who chose this path in life. Palo Alto already carries the bulk of the load when it comes to homeless outreach programs, including a six-figure annual tax contribution from our citizens to support those programs. As a Menlo Park resident, you should be lobbying your civic leaders to play a larger role in dealing with the homeless issues in our region. This Palo Altan and I'm sure many others would be very grateful.


Posted by JT, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 18, 2011 at 11:52 am

Instead of slamming me for pointing out the obvious, ask yourself this question -- How come Sunnyvale doesn't have the number of homeless as Palo Alto. Or Redwood City? Or Cupertino? Because they don't offer all of the freebees we do, and the homeless are drawn to Palo Alto like a magnet. So on one hand we complain about people being assaulted by homeless and on the other we create new programs to entice them. We Palo Altans are our own worst enemy.

I've got an experiment that will prove my statement. What if we stopped offering all services to homeless for one month. No opportunity center. No All Saints Free Meals. No shelter. No handouts. Then we count the number of homeless who are left.

For what it's worth, I've been dead broke in my life. How did I get out of that rut? I got a second job and worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week until I had enough money for a place to live. There are jobs out there. (I saw help wanted signs on two downtown businesses yesterday.) But people have to have the desire to work. If they don't want to work, it shouldn't be my fault or yours.


Posted by WeNeedShelter, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Some prople cannot work because of mental illness or because of their appearance and lack of skills. I doubt those placed you saw job posting signs are willing to hire our older homeless community. It is not so easy for some people to get a job.


Posted by Frank, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 18, 2011 at 3:13 pm

"you consider arresting all homeless and warehousing them somewhere an improvement. Who picks up the tab for that?"

Yes. The alternative, currently in action, is that they be left on the street in our towns and cities. Rudy Giuliani did a version of warehousing, by force, and it was very successful for NYC. If the program was run right (no crocodile tears, just a demanding and structured self-help model)I would willingly support it with my taxes and private giving.


Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 18, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Hey weneedshelter, I have news for you, it's never easy finding a good job, but like most people, I worked more than one job starting out and made many sacrifices to get where I am today. No one handed me anything nor did I expect it. I stayed in school while working, earned a degree, and worked my way up from the ground floor. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth or ever felt I was entitled to anything. I avoided behavior that I knew would be self-destructive and limit my options in the future. Though I made my share of mistakes, I was accountable for my actions and dealt with it. I didn't ask for a free pass or waited for society to solve my problems. I was law-abiding and did not fall into the trap of substance abuse or addiction. Life is hard, and I forged something out by taking advantage of the many opportunities this country provides to everyone. I truly believe that most productive people made their was in life very much the same way. Please do not resent us for expecting other to do the same. Bottom line, I didn't do all this just to pick up the tab for those who made bad decisions. It's called consequences, and the ones who chose to squander their life away are not my responsibility.


Posted by Mom by Gunn High, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 20, 2011 at 1:29 am

OMG~ I am just a short time away for asking for a barf bag.
Those of you who profess to contribute to the homeless program come into it with such prejudice, it makes me ill. On one hand you are professing to be compassionate, on the other hand you are snarling behind the closed doors....

"I forged something out by taking advantage of the many opportunities this country provides to everyone."
"This country still provides more opportunities than obstacles. Just ask any immigrant who comes to this country and makes the most of those opportunities."

"There are jobs out there. (I saw help wanted signs on two downtown businesses yesterday.) But people have to have the desire to work. If they don't want to work, it shouldn't be my fault or yours." The owners of those business' are no doubt looking for ABLE bodies, immaculate in appearance so their top drawer customers won't be afraid to patronize their shops. Or were you thinking of a job picking up cigarette butts or trash??? THAT was already done by the homeless street team awhile back..in return for food. And they also wore a bright orange jacket which made them look like the crew from a jail. Great incentive. Great job..SOMEONE has to do it, eh.

After being homeless for awhile, it takes some SERIOUS readjustment to work back into a fast society (as we have here in this area especially!! ESPECIALLY in Palo Alto.) I would suggest you rethink your image of how homeless people can and should be helped.

Reopen Agnews and solve the problem~ then your home values may increase...that seems to be a big issue with people on this thread....

By the way, THANK YOU STEVE C. for your comments on my post which the Weekly omitted.......................they at least could have cut it up a bit instead of deleting the whole post~ which I thought was right on also.................................


Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 21, 2011 at 10:35 am

That's the problem gunn mom, too many people are still looking for, as you suggest, on how homeless people can be helped. It's precisely that enabling attitude that keeps many of these people down. Having more faith in people, I would like to see us raise the bar and expect people to learn to help themselves. Again, I've done my share of homeless outreach work, and never once with a snarl I might add. I learned that many suffer from mental disorders. For those public assistance may be required, and with that I have no issue. As for the many others that make up the majority of the homeless population, my experience tells me that they are in that position due to personal choices they have made in life. Most often it was some issue involving a lack of education, substance abuse, drug addiction, or criminal background. Again I ask, where and how did they think they were going to end up? Personally, I expect more from people and have faith in the human potential. They don't need blind sympathy, hand-outs, or an easy pass. That would sap anyone's pride and self-respect. No, they need expectations and with that reasonable consequences.


Posted by anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2011 at 3:07 pm

When I first saw this article today (over a week old) I almost cried. I am a "homeless" guy for many years. The so-called Opportunity Center, in my opinion, is a product of political graft and class warfare. $24 million dollars to build it was an insult and an alienation of money that I could have used to get myself out of homelessness.

What is the occasion now for the Palo Alto Weekly and Palo Alto Online to do their handwashing? Did they hear there might be opposition voices against them?



Posted by Mom by Gunn, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 25, 2011 at 6:33 am

Sad to say, but 24 million divided up to everyone who wanted a piece of that pie would not leave much for anyone except for maybe a better tent to live in....and with that comes the problem of where to pitch it...Yes, it was a political movement, but at least for some the moving was a good move....I have witnessed a few things at the shelter that was short of a miracle for a few people....they are safe and off the streets ( for as long as they behave...follow the "rules" ) And I also have witnessed those who have bent the rules...and that is heartbreaking.


Posted by Edgarpoet, a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 13, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Edgarpoet is a registered user.

The oppertunistic center is really a social experiment gone wrong!
The money coming in at the top mostly gets eaten up at the top
By the CEO and mega staff while those on the bottom get crumbs
and their lives remain miserable. Many of these people have one thing in common: they have accepted defeat! and when a person accepts defeat, they become what others pronounce them to be.
If you call them "bums" they do their best to fit that description.
If you deem them "usleless" they become just that!
The oppertunitic center thrives upon creating a perpetual client base
that will keep them in business, i.e. They exist for themselves
at the expense of those they are supposed to be serving, or helping.
The whole picture is WRONG. We, as a society should be darned ashamed
of this type of social failure, and take drastic steps to change this. We need to all wite to our city council and demand they stop supporting this failed program. There ARE real people in our society that do have the calling and right philosophy to actually help
the homeless, instead of oppress them MORE!


Posted by jjabrams, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 27, 2013 at 11:27 am

At the minimum, There should be a coin operated showering facility for the homeless or for people who reside in cars. Some are homeless because they can't follow rules or have mental illness. Others simply hit bottom and have no support to get back on their feet. Those folks who state that the homeless are lazy have never had to truly support themselves on their own from birth. They may have had family to guide them through school and they received support since childhood.
I was diagnosed with cancer and couldn't work for years. I have an advanced degree and worked in the area for years. A few years ago, I lost everything because I could not work. I did not have family to help me. When I applied for jobs at Walmart just for the medical insurance, I was told I was over educated and over qualified. When I tried to re-enter the work force, I was faced with daunting competition. Once you hit bottom its very difficult to get back on your feet. Those that often claim homeless people are lazy and drug addicts have never had to rely on themselves and only themselves. They've never experienced hard times. Because its so difficult to get back on track, the homeless who are employed and living in their cars, should be able to at least clean up once in awhile. A coin operated , timed facility is viable.


Posted by Chthonic Dweller, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 28, 2013 at 9:31 pm

The Opportunity. Center has certainly lost its way from when it first opened. The managers are unsympathetic and exclusionary, as previously commented publicly by homeless folks who have tried to get into it or have since left it. There is no control over what the residents do to other residents, and an invisible, ineffective security force has allowed grievous harm to come to many residents.

To whom do the money and services go in the O pportunity Center? It does not appear to go to the residents. For all it costs, it may as well not exist. maybe it would be best to just shut it down.


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Gourmet hot dogs, sausage food truck coming to the Peninsula
By Elena Kadvany | 9 comments | 2,913 views

Allowing Unauthorized Immigrants to Learn and Earn Legally Will Help the Economy
By Steve Levy | 33 comments | 2,350 views

College applications: round three
By Sally Torbey | 24 comments | 1,753 views

Is HBO's Silicon Valley Any Good?
By Anita Felicelli | 17 comments | 1,744 views

PAUSD Leadership Challenges
By Paul Losch | 17 comments | 1,276 views