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How do you respond to beggars on University Avenue?

Original post made by Chris Zaharias, Crescent Park, on Feb 19, 2014

I walk on University from Cowper to High Street 2-4x/day, and beggars ask me for money 2-3x each walk. That adds up to a lot of interactions.

How do you respond to beggars on University Avenue? I'm trying hard to simply ignore and get to my end-point, but given the # & regularity of the people begging, seems like we citizens & business owners needs to decide whether or not we want University Ave's ambiance meaningfully damaged. I'm B2B, but if I had a retail biz on Univ., I'd be in front of the next City Council meeting demanding something be done.

BTW, I do give as I can to local charities, who clearly are not getting these folks off the street.

Comments (9)

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Posted by No Go
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 19, 2014 at 3:47 pm

I stopped going to University for the most part because of the beggars. The way I deal with them is avoiding the areas they frequent, like DT Palo Alto.
Sometimes I have to go downtown but I never bring my small children, EVER.


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Posted by No Go Too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2014 at 7:31 pm

I learned my lesson when someone made a very convincing plea at the DT farmer's market. At the time, my spouse was out of town and I had only so much money. I opened my wallet and gave the person $10 or $20 - leaving less for myself to get groceries at the market. I am not a rich person, and this was for me a generous gesture. The person's response was to try to look into my change purse for more! Never again. I will continue to volunteer to serve meals at shelters, but giving money to people begging on the streets only encourages behavior by people who hurt the willingness of the public to give to those truly in need.


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Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2014 at 7:51 pm

Well, giving them money is not helping, because they might buy drugs or alcohol with the money rather than something actually useful. We give to charities and then we don't give on the street (or very rarely and not much).

If people try to talk to us while they beg we either ignore them completely, or we smile, say hello, and move on while ignoring what they are saying. Which we choose depends on our mood and who we are confronted with.


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Posted by rick
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 20, 2014 at 7:19 am

rick is a registered user.

I would like to have heard more. Dialog on this and the related issue of people camping in doorways is often cut short. Probably something about not wanting to air our dirty laundry in public. Or maybe it's just assumed that nothing helpful can be said.


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Posted by Bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 21, 2014 at 1:04 am

Bru is a registered user.

I never give money to beggars. I think maybe once I did, and I don't regret it ... it was probably for some reason that I forgot, but in general I don't think it helps and I don't think you can be sure it even goes to the person you are giving it to.

I have never been harassed or threatened by a homeless beggar, mostly, they are too polite when I wish they would just go away.

That said, I think they should have the freedom to stay there and do what they want. I think many of them are just as good as many of the people that walk right past them, and they should have rights to.

Some of them should be taken into custody eventually for problems. There was a rather tall man that used to push a shopping cart around town with a mustache and thick black wavy hair. He was like a rat. When the Borders downtown used to be open he would go in there. Often I would go in and I could smell him clear from the other side of the store.

There was another lady with a thick matt of hair and a hunched back that I see walking around in University and sleeping in building entrances. Such people need to be taken in for a hold and see if there is something to be done for them.

There is a tall man who has been downtown more than 20 years. He has long what was blonde hair and a heavy beard. I recall 20 years ago he showed up on the streets with his girlfriend, who soon left him and he persists in wandering around.

There is also a lady who sleeps in the Downtown Post Office.

There are a lot of homeless people, and I don't see why the state cannot do something about them. I think Reagan was right to try to reform what had become the "Cookoo's Nest", but he broke it even more. We call ourselves the richest country on the face of the Earth ... is that because only because we don't spend money on people like this, healthy care, or education? If so ... what is it worth?

I say unless we can and do, do better for these people, leave them looking us in the face.


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Posted by Anonymous22
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2014 at 1:47 am

Anonymous22 is a registered user.

@Bru,
The problem of poverty is a multi-faceted one, but you are speaking directly about the chronic homeless with mental illness.

I think we will one day find what mostly led to the downward spiral of people like this is illness with originally a physiological basis that affects the brain (that feeds into a mental illness, not the other way around).

All I know is that if I was locked away in my brain because of illness like that, I would want someone to try to figure out how to cure it and bring me back. Even if the illness made me paranoid and I was resistant to it. (But given how the mentally ill are regarded, it can be easy to understand the paranoia just from that standpoint. I can understand why most people don't want to feel like they're just going to be locked away.) I mean, if mental illness is the issue, sleeping on the sidewalk and being among people is still in a way a cry for help. I'm not sure people who always say, Oh, they should have a right to do that are really helping, because it becomes their way of just ignoring them and the problem.

I wonder how it would be different if we had a better health care system. If our doctors never see certain problems because the people with them fall through the cracks (since it's related to mental illness), then it becomes a vicious cycle where the problem that might otherwise we solved is never really looked at hard or studied for how to make each person well. Those people never enter the system in that capacity.


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Posted by Bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 21, 2014 at 1:58 am

Bru is a registered user.

If I had to guess, I'd say people get crazy because crazy things are done to them in their lives they cannot process. I doubt it is their fault, and I doubt there will ever be an easy or chemical answer to it. The answer is to mandate and care about people being treated with rationality and respect all of their lives, like the world cares about them.

I believe there are systems in our bodies that try to detect when someone is doing wrong and lead them to self-destruction, and these systems are tricks by clever things that other people do to lead to people'd downfalls ... like crazy making. Why some people are affected by things that others are not, is not the question, it's just a fact that some people are immune and strong, and some people are vulnerable to certain experiences or feelings.

There is an interesting documentary online called "UnNatural Causes" that touches on this, but it is about how stress induces disease. Some of it is based on the the Stanford work of Robert Sapolosky, whose theories on this everyone should be exposed to. The final frontier as the world gets smaller, the population grows and things get scarce is to predate each other, and this is how we do it, and we have institutionalized it into a giant unconscious machine so we do not have to think about it or do anything about it and we can blame the victims for being defective or being too high maintenance or not tough enough.


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Posted by rick
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2014 at 6:22 am

rick is a registered user.

Where is the sanity? People spending their days in little cubicles and nights in little boxes purchased with million dollar mortgages, between which they travel frenetically in more little boxes on wheels. Lives filled with worry until they die, leaving only strings of bytes in hyperspace, or nurturing their young to do the same until the planet can bear no more.


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Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 21, 2014 at 10:07 am

Chris Zaharias is a registered user.

@Rick - yours is comment of the year IMHO, and just *wonderfully* descriptive & concise. I'm ever the optimist, though, and encourage all to look back in history to see how much better our lives are than we ever stop to realize, and how much brighter our collective future is than our innate worrying leads us to believe.

Death by violence as a % of overall deaths is at historic lows, ditto for infant deaths, deaths from disease and death from natural disasters. As Bill Gates says, by 2035 there will likely be *no* countries with >50% of people in poverty, again an achievement new to humankind.

The earth is hardier than we'll ever be, and environmental issues will moderate, then reverse once we reach limitless renewable energy, which is not more than 25-50 years off (a geologic eye-wink). At that point, all that'll be left is the physiologically impertinent but ultimately most important psychological and spiritual needs your post describes.


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