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The Opportunity Center Was A Mistake

Original post made by Kat, Palo Alto High School, on Dec 15, 2007

The article in the Palo Alto Weekly on the homeless shelter, also known as the Opportunity Center, written by Lars Osterberg and Don Barr lacked objectivity. If one wants to investigate whether providing substantial services, including mental health, food, housing, etc. to homeless individuals actually serves as a magnet for the homeless, lets take a look at that situation without the built-in bias that these two gentlemen clearly hold. They are in favor of providing services to the homeless and consequently provide vague feedback that is missing any of the negative impact we as residents deal with on a daily basis. I walk the downtown area every day and the number of homeless has increased substantially since the Opportunity Center opened. I see rude, obnoxious behavior as homeless individuals spread their belongings in the shop doorways and over public benches. They shout at people passing by and frighten many people as they try to use the downtown. Mr. Osterberg and Mr. Barr, you are not being truthful with the residents of Palo Alto. The Opportunity Center and it's offspring have brought more homeless to our town and lessened the quality of life for everyone else.

Who are the private and public backers of this fiasco? Are they local residents and businesses or from out of town and therefore people and entities who don't want the problem near their homes and businesses? Why was it located near the high school and a vibrant downtown area? Are you listening City Council????

Comments (130)

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Posted by Alyssa
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 15, 2007 at 4:38 pm

Kat is substantially correct. It's obvious that the Opportunity Center has drawn homeless, mentally ill, substance abusing unfortunates to our city, and that this has lowered the quality of life for all who use downtown, and increasingly Town and Country also. Even residential areas are not immune as a particularly disheveled person has taken up residence on the bench across the street from Casteleja (Girls) school.

What is less remarked upon in the increasing alarm about this situation is that the Opportunity Center is failing in its stated mission - to help the sad people who are its "clients". It was (and is) crazy to think its a good idea to attract mentally ill people into a community that is technologically based and has among the highest living costs in the country. Even if their mental and addiction problems were magically cured, they have no hope of fitting into this community in any meaningful or productive way. They are doomed to lives of living on charity or government assistance - which can only increase the pressure on them to return to their previous existences.

Kat asks who brought these people here. For the most part they're well meaning dogooders. But they are using these poor homeless as props in a long running street theater production meant to show and remind the rest of us how unjust society is. They do this at the expense of the very people they claim to want to help, and they should be ashamed for it.


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Posted by Peter
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 15, 2007 at 6:13 pm

when something goes wrong in your neighborhood, do you:
1) sit back and complain about it?, or
2) do something about it?

i hope downtown palo alto fills up with homeless people and all the Republicans move out - that's the quickest way to make shallow alto a better place.


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Posted by Patty
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 15, 2007 at 8:07 pm

The Opportunity Center is a BIG mistake. I never go Downtown to shop anymore it's dangerous. Mountain View and East Palo Alto offer safe shopping - hurrah for all their big box stores!!!


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Posted by Peter
a resident of another community
on Dec 15, 2007 at 8:23 pm

So the solution Kat and Alyssa propose is the same one that always turns up; kick them out of here so we don't have to look at them or actually deal with the problem. Just as Rudy did in NYC. Sweep them under the rug, so then the problem doesn't exist. This is not a solution to the problem.

The world isn't a Currier and Ives print. People have problems, many people have problems they can't solve by themselves. Decent societies work together to solve, or at least mitigate the problems. Decent people in these societies don't say, "It's not my problem," and push it off on another community, they deal with it. The task isn't easy, the task takes work. Look at what San Francisco is trying to do; look at what downtown Denver is trying to do.

The homeless and the mentally ill and the substance abusers will always be with us. We have to work together to devise solutions. We also have to lighten up a little and admit that the world isn't picture-perfect and move on.


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Posted by a long time resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 15, 2007 at 9:05 pm

Today's daily talkes about the homeless in downtown. It was in the letters to editor.
The person said the problem is that the homeless who worked to earn some money by cleaning sidewalks are no longer employed. Ran out of money and want the taxpayers to pony up money to keep downtown clean. I guess the merchants and owners feel that the $50,000 or $60,000 they get for 1000 sq ft of space they rent/year just isn't enough to keep the sidewalks in front of their property clean/nice. The city is paying about $3,500,000 for a few years lease on 7,000 sq ft on Hamilton across from city hall. What a rip-off to the taxpayers.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Let's find someone to blame attitude. It must be people who help the homeless that are the cause of the problem. Many of them are the "Evil" veterans who fought our wars and were hated when they came home. Pres. Regan closed the mental facilities and those wound up on the streets. Anything to save the super rich money is the way to go?


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 15, 2007 at 10:03 pm

Are there homeless people typically in the downtowns of Menlo Park, Los Altos, Mountain View, Saratoga, Woodside, Belmont, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, etc.? Hard to judge our experience without knowing what others do.

I tend to agree that the homeless situation in downtown PA is really not very good. Hard to say if it is due to our actions or not without some comparative data.

It seems a shame that LTR thinks poorly of his/her neighbors because they don't like the situation. Maybe Kat and Alyssa feel the same about LTR. Maybe we can judge each other less and just focus on the problem.


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Posted by Kat
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 16, 2007 at 10:06 am

LTR - The purpose of my posting was to point out the obvious bias of the article in the Palo Alto Weekly and the dangerous nature of locating a homeless center within blocks of two high schools and a downtown shopping district. Your personal attack was inappropriate.


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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 16, 2007 at 11:26 am

I just hope that everyone knows that they are no better or worse than homeless people. We are who we are because of opportunities presented or not presented to us during our lives.

I don't know what the solution to the problem is, but kicking "them" out because we live in an expensive area is misguided at best.

We need to have compassion and direct that compassion in a productive, helpful and carefully planned way. After all, we can't take it with us in the very end.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2007 at 12:16 pm

I agree with Joanna that "kicking out" the homeless is not a great solution.

But as I am sure Joanna recognizes, if we create a magnet for homeless people, that is also not a good solution. Berkeley and SF have gone this route and are not happy with the result.

We need to balance compassion and regulation. The OC may or may not be a good idea; it's location does seem to create issues; it may be creating an environment for downtown that requires different regs or enforcement that we have had in the past. Wanting a safe, friendly commercial district is not a sign of weak character or lack of compassion.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2007 at 12:19 pm

The center is a great place for people who will accept help. For the majority of the street people, limit our contribution to shelter and sanitation, some place out of the way to which they can be legally directed. Then enforce eisting sanitation laws rigidly. Let churches handle salvation.


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Posted by Anna
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 16, 2007 at 2:09 pm

Kat, can you post the link to the article that you mentioned above. Thanks.


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Posted by Caring Human Being
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 16, 2007 at 2:26 pm

The "not in my backyard" mentality continues! How could clean and quaint Palo Alto ever have a homeless problem? It might reflect poorly on our city! We should just ship them out to San Francisco or East Palo Alto instead of trying to deal with them... right? I support the city in its effort to provide basic, human services to the homeless. We have a moral responsibility, whether we like it or not, to help those who are less fortunate.


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Posted by Kat
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 16, 2007 at 2:30 pm

Anna - It's in the December 12, 2007 Palo Alto Daily. "Living Without a Safety Net".


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Posted by Kat
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 16, 2007 at 2:42 pm

Caring Human Being - We have always had a homeless problem in Palo Alto, but prior to the homeless shelters in the downtown area, we were not the magnet that we are today for the homeless and mentally ill. There is nothing caring about bringing mentally ill individuals to a commercial district and local high school. You can be caring and helpful without doing it in a thoughtless and dangerous way. Locate homeless shelters out of the downtown area and away from all local schools. This removes the foreseeable dangers the homeless and mentally ill present to local residents and visitors to Palo Alto.


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Posted by gordon
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2007 at 3:08 pm

People are drawn to Palo Alto for what it has to offer. Real estate prices are high, public services abound, Stanford is nearby. . . people like it. There's even a movement afoot to attract more people in the form of Destination Palo Alto.

How can you expect Homeless people not to be attracted here as well? They are, after all, people.

Palo Altans brag about how great their city is. The homeless apparently agree.


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Posted by Caring Human Being
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 16, 2007 at 3:08 pm

Ahhh... I understand your fears Kat, but you illustrate my point perfectly. Where, exactly, do you propose moving the opportunity center? To another city's downtown? To another neighborhood? You'd just be giving the problem to someone else.

The opportunity center needs to STAY in downtown Palo Alto. That's where the majority of the homeless people are. No one is going to hop on a bus and travel to the middle of nowhere to get help... we need to bring it to them.

And honestly, don't worry: Palo Alto won't become dangerous. If anything, helping the homeless will make us safer. Sure, it might attract more people... but then again, most aren't the "crazy, mentally ill scum" that society makes them out to be. They're normal people who have fallen on hard times.

Think of it as giving your kids a little life experience. How much longer are you going to try to shelter them from the real world? High School kids are old enough to make their own decisions and find out.


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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2007 at 3:22 pm

San Francisco has had enough. Even Santa Cruz has started to crack down. Berkeley is on the verge. Only Palo Alto is saying, "Come here, we feel for you".

The only way the shelter solution works is if it is widespead AND it is compulsory. Giuliani figured it outin NYC. He provided the shelters, but he also sent his cops out to round 'em up, kicking all the way.

PA Downtown has lost a lot of potential business, and that translates into tax revenues, in case anybody cares about that issue. The OC is now complaining that it does not have enough money to run its programs. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2007 at 3:47 pm

Anybody have any knowledge of homeless situation/population in other Peninsula and SouthBay towns? For a small suburb, it does seem like we have a fair sized homeless population.


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Posted by Kat
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 16, 2007 at 3:53 pm

Caring Human Being - All of the homeless shelters should be moved from the downtown area and away from all schools. I don't want anyone exposing any kid (yes, even in high school) to homeless and mentally ill individuals. This is not an experiment that I am willing to participate in at the expense of kids. My first allegiance is with the local kids, not the homeless population. There should be help for the homeless, but not at the expense of the kids.

Your point that locating the homeless shelters anywhere but downtown would mean that the shelters would be in "the middle of nowhere" and therefore the homeless would not use them is disturbing and hopefully wrong. One of the real problems is that the police do nothing about all of the homeless laying about on the streets and benches downtown. It's as if they don't see them. The shelters should be in a less populated area where panhandling for money to buy drugs and alcohol would be much harder. It would require the police to ENFORCE the laws on the books.


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Posted by Caring Human Being
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 16, 2007 at 4:51 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Kat, it's fine with me if the Police decide to enforce the laws. But fining them won't work. (how will they pay?) Alternatively, we could throw them all in jail... but that will only strain our bulging jails more. Sending them to the opportunity center is still a better option.


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Posted by mike
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2007 at 4:56 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2007 at 5:10 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Julian
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2007 at 5:55 pm

Has anybody bothered to check the number of times the Palo Alto Police have been called to the Opportunity Center. The number will astound you. Any investigative journalists out there?


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2007 at 6:09 pm

I don't think any/many are talking about doing more or less for the homeless - it is a question of where and how. Again, saying those who want safe and friendly downtown (and campuses) are mean or wanting in generosity seems like a red herring.

Mike or mike - any stats on the number of SO's among the homeless population? I looked and couldn't find any.

Julian - sounds like you know the answer - I couldn't figure out a way to check looking at the Police Stats web page. Tell us!


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 16, 2007 at 6:11 pm

People are writing about a lack of police enforcement of the law with regards to homeless in downtown...exactly why is this happening?


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 16, 2007 at 6:15 pm

Ok, on sex offenders, it looks like more sex offenders are declaring themselves homeless, apparently in part to avoid restrictive regs and probably also because of difficult finding housing.

This article says the number of "homeless" SO's is about 2600, so not a big percent of the homeless population. Here's the link: Web Link


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Posted by Kat
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 17, 2007 at 7:47 am

Parent - If you visit downtown on a regular basis, you would see benches and shop doorways occupied with homeless and their belongings. You would see containers set up in front of these individuals asking for money. You would see some individuals shouting at those trying to use the downtown, especially if they don't donate. I have never seen a police officer on University Aveneu monitoring the area, including the behavior of the homeless. They are in the same areas every night. How can the police not know where they are? Last year we heard about the police agreeing to not arrest and jail those breaking the law that were homeless, I think they called it "Restorative Policing". The police need to enforce the laws on the books and not make outside deals with a local judge that apply only to the downtown homeless population.


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Posted by gordon
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2007 at 8:32 am

There's a basic dichotomy here in how Palo Alto sees itself, and it's right and the root of why this is flaring up on this forum.

1. When it comes to Palo Alto's belief about itself, its "place in the world," it sees itself as a beacon of progress, harboring great minds and generally being on par with much larger cities such as San Francisco and Berkeley.

2. When it comes to social and service oriented "problems" such as the homeless population, it sees itself as "just another suburb," and suddenly begs comparison to Menlo Park and Mountain View.

If you believe the first statement, guess what: Palo Alto is going to have to live with the same kinds of problems places like San Francisco and Berkeley have battled for years.

Is Palo Alto a great city, or just another suburb?


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Posted by gordon
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2007 at 8:34 am

oops. . . "right AT the root."


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Posted by Firefighter/Police
a resident of another community
on Dec 17, 2007 at 8:44 am

To the person who said that "the center needs to stay in downtown PA, no body is going to jump on a bus and come here for help". I got news for you- most of the homeless are from outside the city, many from outside the state. How to do we know this? Their ID cards. They come to PA (word spreads fast) that we will "take care of them" and "put up with them".
They drive business away from downtown. They defecate in store fronts, alleyways and your parks.
We spend hours (each week) picking them up, arresting them for being intoxicated in public, treating them when they hurt themselfs or get into a fight with another homeless person.
The town I live in does not "put up with this". They want us to put out fires, catch the bad guys, treat the sick (who pay our wages).



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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2007 at 8:59 am

Gordon, you make a good point. WE ARE A SMALL SURBURBAN CITY. Period. Like many affluent suburbs, we invest a lot in schools. That draws people who have nothing to do with Stanford (like me) to the place. And those educated and striving people attract others like themselves.

The contrast between what we sometimes focus on - green coordinators, zero waste programs, FTTH pilots, Iran (!!) - and what we should focus on - streets, libraries, storm drains, the proverbial pot holes - is very stark.

I've lived in other well-heeled suburbs with big university neighbors - but I've never seen one that thought it needed to be a beacon for progress. This seems way out of step with the reality of being a small, largely middle-class, city.

So we are not "just another suburb," as you say - we have an exceptional community of people, plus great schools, and host a world-class university. Pretty good. But we don't need to add the distinction of being a thought leader or innovator or beacon of social progress, here from our small perch in suburbia. In fact, I would expect that over time, as we may be seeing, this confusion actually undermines the basic mission of a suburban town - witness our storm drains, libraries, and police hq.




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Posted by C me around
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 17, 2007 at 10:14 am

Kat: What are you thinking?? That we should shelter the High School kids here in Palo Alto?? Maybe the students can all board a bus and take a field trip to any homeless shelter to see all the people..what an eye opening experience that would make for a class project..
Agnews should not have been shut down, leaving their very fragile population in Santa Clara "free" to find their own shelter, creekbed, wherever...so sad.
So now, we have the mini OC Center. Thank God that some people in this town have compassion. It ISN'T an easy job over there at the Center, I have seen it first hand. I actually went in where they were serving up food. Incognito, looking to see what REALLY goes on there. I was served sealed food that was hot, like a mini TV dinner. It was noodles with a creamy sauce on in and also had a compartment for the green veggies that I ate. I ate on a fork that was sealed in a plastic container, like the ones at McDonalds. The people eating then were all minding their own business, eating like normal people do, not with their hands like some would imagine.. those, who would like to point and say "look at them, they eat like animals, uncouth individuals. See...how disgusting.." NOT the picture here.
It happened to be the day there that the clothes closet was open for people to come in (after registering at the front desk for admission). Each person was given 10 minutes to hurry through to pick out 6 items from different parts of segregated clothing. Pants, underwear, coat (only 1 allowed a year), sweater, shoes, soxs, and belts, possible trinkets that they may have donated and put into a special pile. There was no grumbling in line, only from the ladies that were running the show, they complained that some people were taking 15 minutes. All items were put into a see through plastic bag while choosing, which was dumped out and counted before the person receiving those items was allowed out of the small room.
That small experience I had there made me realize how much of a pack rat I really am. Also, how one day you may have what seems like everything going for you but could be gone within a short period of time..and how this may be us, thinking if the big quake should hit..we ALL just might have to be lining up for meals if disaster is crucial enough...never take life for granted.


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Posted by Alyssa
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2007 at 12:21 pm

"Thank God that some people in this town have compassion."

It is anything but compassionate to attract people who have no prospect of fitting into the community to a place like Palo Alto. Even if they were to have their mental and substance abuse issues magically cured, these people cannot hope to exist on their own around here. They will be forever dependent on charity, government programs and pan-handling. This is not the way to enhance the self-esteem necessary for a productive life for the poor unfortunates who we propose to help with our "generosity". And it's not the way to build community comity as the comments on this forum show.

Think of what the money spent on the OC could do in a lower cost location instead of Palo Alto. Think of how much money the pricey real estate on which the OC sits could bring in for assistance to the homeless if it were sold. Think of how much easier a homeless person could transition into "normal" society if the community was mostly unskilled working people instead of highly educated and paid professionals.

Those who have real compassion for the legions of homeless who've been drawn into Palo Alto by the OC will advocate its closure and for the relocation of truly helping services to a place more conducive to effective intervention in the desperate people who are wandering our streets now.

Those who want to make a point about what a materialistic uncaring society we live in, or who are on some other social crusade on the other hand, will continue to justify turning people who really need firm intervention into actors in their street theater that's headquartered at the O.C.


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Posted by Kat
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 17, 2007 at 12:24 pm

Thank you Firefighter/Police for providing some first-hand information, as opposed to those on this post who seem to dislike anyone who is opposed to having homeless shelters, drug rehab houses, etc., near a public high school. It confirms what I have been told by others and that is that most of the homeless are here because we invite them to come here with our many shelters and give-aways.

C me around - What are you thinking??? Just because residents do not want a homeless shelter and all that it brings (see Firefighter/Police post) around their kids, even of high school age, is not a indicator that those same residents lack compassion. You are very misguided. The homeless shelters should not be near the downtown nor near ANY school. It's really that simple.


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Posted by june
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2007 at 2:23 pm


We have children in the Palo Alto school system.
I am concerned about their safety.

Most of the homeless here have no ties to Palo Alto.
Many are substance abusers, mentally ill or criminal.
According to the link above an increasing number of homeless people in California are sex offenders avoiding registration.

The OC must be closed in its current location near 2 high schools ASAP and those high schools should be closed campuses from now until the OC closes.

If the OC relocates it should be well away from schools and families with children. Over by the airport/ golf course or near the animal shelter/ utilities complex.

We have a potential tragedy waiting to happen with massive civil liability to the city, particularly if on the books laws are not being enforced by the PAPD.

we will fully support local churches with our time and money in a effort to make a successful transition of strategy re the homeless, but our children come first


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Posted by Curious
a resident of another community
on Dec 17, 2007 at 2:26 pm

Is there any empirical evidence supporting (a) the percentage of increase in homeless persons on our streets? (b) that the homeless increase is directly caused by the Opportunity Center? (c) that the police department is, responding to many incidents there, as opposed to, say, stopping fights and drunken behavior at downtown drinking establishments?

Are there other factors involved in the increased homelessness, such as a jump in joblessness, the high cost of housing and erosion of the economic base for the middle class and the working poor?

It's true the presence of disheveled, babbling, aggressive or smelly persons is disconcerting, but doesn't the fact that these people are on the streets reflect something deeper about the failure of such a wealthy society to prevent this tragedy in the first place?

What did our society do in previous decades when there seemed to be fewer hoemless people on the street? Shouldn't we try to recreate that model again?

No city should deal with this problem on its own. We need a state or regional policy that gets people the help they need before they get into dire straights.

There is an eye-opening program going on right under our noses that can shed some light on the image of the homeless. If you haven't ever visited the Breaking Bread hot meals program at the various churches in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, do stop in some time. You will find people there who look just like yourselves: clean, neat, well dressed, skilled and intelligent -- but living in a car or on the street, or in a seedy hotel. They may have lost a job or perhaps became depressed and couldn't function well enough to keep it together. They are not law breakers -- just people for whom life has taken a bad turn.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2007 at 2:35 pm

There is no absolute right to be anywhere - just try parking overtime and see; yet the city attorney and council seem incapable of structuring an ordinance that limits the use of public or private space as a campground. Perhaps if the voluntary homeless were to pitch tents in the middle of the street someone would figure that something was wrong. Perhaps we could get Iran to pass a resolution against defecating in downntown Palo Alto streets?


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Posted by Chuck
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 17, 2007 at 2:36 pm

"It's true the presence of disheveled, babbling, aggressive or smelly persons is disconcerting, but doesn't the fact that these people are on the streets reflect something deeper about the failure of such a wealthy society to prevent this tragedy in the first place?"

As Alyssa said, some seek to use the homeless as props for social commentary.



"What did our society do in previous decades when there seemed to be fewer hoemless people on the street? Shouldn't we try to recreate that model again?"

We had vagrancy laws and involuntary commitment for mentally ill persons. Yes, we should try to move toward that model.


"They may have lost a job or perhaps became depressed and couldn't function well enough to keep it together. They are not law breakers -- just people for whom life has taken a bad turn."

This is right. They would have a much better chance of returning to being functioning members of society in a place where the average house didn't cost a million dollars, and where more of the jobs are for unskilled labor.

Let's close the Opportunity Center now - to prevent the tragedy that june and Kat foretell, and most of all for the benefit of the poor homeless who are drawn by the OC to our area where they cannot help but continue to fail at life.




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Posted by Carol
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 17, 2007 at 2:44 pm

Where is all this paranoia coming from? What evidence is there that the few homeless people in Palo Alto present a danger to our high-school kids?
The Opportunity Center is just that: a safe place to give people the opportunity to better their living conditions and get back on their feet.
How about a little more generosity of spirit?
And, Breaking Bread (a program of the InnVision/Urban Ministry) could use a few more volunteers. (By the way, as a BB volunteer, I'm not seeing any more hungry people than 10 years ago. I don't believe we have a "growing" homeless issue.)


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Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 17, 2007 at 2:54 pm

Kat, actually you misunderstood me - I AM with you, as a PAHS parent I am asking why don't the police enforce existing laws when it comes to the homeless. I just don't understand. How come PA downtown is so different from Mt View, etc. I will not routinely go places where I may (and have been accosted) therefore I take my business to Mt View.


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Posted by Ben W
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 17, 2007 at 2:54 pm

Carol obviously well-meaning. But she misses the point. The homeless are ill-served by drawing them here, and by pretending they can re-integrate into society in a expensive community with Palo Alto's demographic.

We have plenty of generosity of sprit here. What we don't have is enough humility to see that we cannot "save" these people by giving them handouts - either informally as panhandlers, or formally at the OC.

I wonder how many homeless "get back on their feet" at the OC. I see the same faces on University Avenue year after year - now joined by the many new ones drawn here by the reputation of our city as an easy mark. For most, homeless seems like a chosen lifestyle - not something they seek to give up.

Perhaps Carol is blinded by her avocation. Anyone paying attention cannot help but see that there are many more homeless wandering our streets since the OC opened. Please help them by putting them in sitations where they can be aided in a possible return to being functioning members of a community.


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Posted by dorid
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 17, 2007 at 4:54 pm

Don't forget you meet the same people going up and the same people going down. So as the good book says "Treat people the way you want to be treated". Bottom Line!


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Posted by sarlat
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 17, 2007 at 5:45 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Gary
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 17, 2007 at 5:52 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2007 at 6:00 pm

Assigned campground with minimum sanitary facilities and minimal could well be the designated place to assign those who have no place to stay. It is not an act of mercy to allow someone to kill themselves by exposure and disease.


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Posted by Sherry
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2007 at 6:11 pm

How about Angell Island, Walter?


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Posted by Anna
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 17, 2007 at 7:01 pm

Just curious if anyone knows how is it to live and eat at the OC. From what I heard, not everyone is happy over there. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I don't know facts and I would love to hear from someone who knows folks who live there who feels safe and well-fed in the building.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2007 at 3:27 am

Sherry, at least you are thinking. Everybody has to be somewhere, nobody has the right to be everywhere.


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Posted by Ronald L
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 18, 2007 at 10:55 am

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the original
Hotel De Zinc set up with the help of the Palo Alto police in the 1930's? Even then, homeless were living beneath the creek bridge.
Helping the homeless in Palo Alto is nothing new.


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Posted by National Geo
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 18, 2007 at 11:17 am

Walter, where is everywhere?


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Posted by Maria
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2007 at 11:40 am

I laughed when I saw the comments about high school kids and the homeless. As a former Paly parent, I can tell you that your students are in far greater danger from some of their fellow students than from any of the homeless!


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Posted by Kat
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 18, 2007 at 1:15 pm

Maria - You may take it as a joke, but I can assure you that most parents do not. It appears from your post that you don't even have kids at Paly. The homeless shelter has been a block from the high school for only about a year now. It's a lawsuit in the making for the city and the school district, who did not take a protective stand for the kids on this one when it was originally proposed. I believe there was an recent incident there and one of the high school students was approached by a homeless individual associated with the opportunity center. I read about it in the paper, but don't remember all of the particulars.


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Posted by june
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2007 at 5:25 pm



I would like accurate statistics on crimes and incidents involving the homeless in Palo Alto.

I know a homeless person burnt down the drug store on University Avenue, there have been incidents at Town and Country right next to Paly.

As a parent I am concerned about the safety of my children and the two high school campuses close to OC should be closed campuses starting Jan 7 until the OC is moved away from schools and families with children.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 18, 2007 at 5:58 pm

Closed Campus? Both Gunn and Paly students would rebel if this happened. There is not sufficient danger for this to be enacted.


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Posted by june
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2007 at 6:08 pm



The two campuses that need to be closed until OC moves are Paly and Castilleja.

Gunn is a safe distance form OC.

In fact OC should be relocated to somewhere as far away from schools and families with children as Gunn is distant from the current OC location



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Posted by Sparky
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 18, 2007 at 7:55 pm

Students rebelling over rules! Can't have that... Bring on Jackie Mac!


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Posted by Newcomer to PA
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2007 at 8:31 pm

This shouldn't just be a "get them away from my kids" sort of discussion - what about the quality of life for everyone, even those without kids. I was shocked by the overwhelming presence of homeless persons in downtown PA when I first moved here six months ago. The train station is a filthy disgrace, as are almost all of the "public" benches downtown. Why on earth are we tolerating this? I'm not a germaphobe, but give me a brake. When people are urinating and defacating in public places - which I have seen more than I wish since moving here- you can very quickly end up with a public health crisis. I have absolutely no desire to walk around downtown PA - I'd rather spend my time and money where I won't be harassed by the homeless people populating every single sidewalk bench. I can't even describe how disconcerting it is to have moved to such a filthy "suburb." I'm ready to move back to sweet home Chicago.


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Posted by mike
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2007 at 8:47 pm



Newcomer--welcome

Yes I think the views of those without kids are very important an I regret your experience, the situation is truly horrific and a health risk.

Parents feel an extra concern I believe because increasing numbers of homeless in California are sex offenders- see link above.

I would also like to hear the perspective of some senior citizens-- they must be horrified by what has become of their town and I am sure many of them live in fear of venturing downtown.

This is both a tragedy and a major lawsuit in the making.

I wonder what impression the hoards of homeless will make on the Canadian Consulate I bet they are mad at their real estate agent!



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Posted by Tom
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 18, 2007 at 9:11 pm

The Opportunity Center is not a mistake. It is a humane response to many past and ongoing mistakes.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 18, 2007 at 9:45 pm

mike, nice troll - but that aside, Tom's note is on target.

We DO need better enforcement re: loitering; I'm puzzled about why there is no action taken on that front.

I find it offensive that someone who is unwashed can populate and sully a city bench for an entire day. We have to find some humane solution to this conundrum. Perhaps a "police lite" squad of deputized city volunteers. It may sound harsh, but there's no reason that a "beat cop" shouldn't be able to politely say "please, move along" to those who are loitering in public spaces, or creating a disturbance in a public building.

For those that are mentally ill, we need special services available to get them off the street, and into safe places.

This is a complicated problem, with no easy answer. The homeless are our brethren, and the bell tolls for everyone.


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Posted by Tom
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 19, 2007 at 10:39 am

Well said, Mike. If I may interject to the general readership, we should not hold our hardworking (really) police force responsible for what is or is not being done. They are faithfully carrying out our city's policies as formulated by our representatives on the city council. Whoever wants a different approach needs to tell it to the council, and keep telling it.


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Posted by Alyssa
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2007 at 11:05 am

If we really care about the homeless, rather than about our own sense of self-righteousness, we'll support the relocation of the Opportunity Center to a place where the homeless can integrate more easily into the local community and economy, and where the resources dedicated to the homeless can go further.

We'll support much more forceful commitment policies for the mentally ill and substance abusing majority of the homeless, and we'll ask our police to enforce more strict loitering and vagrancy policies than we have now. Other local cities do not allow the homeless to abuse and degrade themselves on local streets, and this kind of tough love is compassionate as it forces those who don't have enough self control to behave in civilized manners.

It's true that the homeless are becoming inappropriate targets of hostility because of the lenient policies of our city. But the real reason to take a completely different approach to the homeless is not to make us more comfortable: it's to aid (and coerce when necessary) the poor souls we see disintegrating in front of our eyes every day into living better, productive and happier lives.


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Posted by june
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2007 at 1:47 pm



Alyssa- I agree with you- but how do we make sure something is done and that the OC is moved ASAP ?

I tell you that if a Stanford student is attacked on campus you will see some action.
First the foundations that currently fund OC will stop funding and distance themselves.

Second Stanford will start restricting access to campus- we will approach the gated communities of LA.

Before a tragedy occurs we need to start contacting these foundation which are listed on the OC website.

We need to express the concerns of the Palo Alto community to these foundation and get their help in moving OC within the next few months the faster the better.


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Posted by Sad situation
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 19, 2007 at 2:37 pm

I have lived in downtown Palo Alto for 11 years now and walk the downtown streets daily. I can not tell you how run down, dirty, and unpleasant the streets have become in the recent years. The streets are riddled with homeless people making the atomosphere very unpleasant for locals, non-residents, and tourists. Everyone has a choice to be productive in society!! The homeless who are not mentally ill CAN make a choice to contribute to society!!
Why are the homeless less fortunate?? Because they made a choice to drop out of society, sit on the street, and do nothing with their lives. The homeless mentality is to take from society, give nothing back, and put the burden on the backs of the taxpayers who work so hard to put a roof over their own heads.


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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2007 at 4:53 pm

Sad: "Why are the homeless less fortunate?? Because they made a choice to drop out of society, sit on the street, and do nothing with their lives. The homeless mentality is to take from society, give nothing back, and put the burden on the backs of the taxpayers who work so hard to put a roof over their own heads."

Wow...

"We live among the ignorant, who eat bad chickweed" - Donald Duck

Have you ever, once, spoken with a homeless person, at length? Ever worked in a soup kitchen, feeding mothers who have two jobs, but can't afford an apartment. Yes, there are some shiftless souls among the homeless population, just like there are some shiftless souls walking the halls of corporate America.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2007 at 5:00 pm

Reality, I am less concerned about judging the homeless and panhandlers, and more concerned about having a clean, safe, and inviting commercial district, train station, school zones, etc. Can we assist the homeless and still have our town? It doesn't seem too much to ask.


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Posted by Alyssa
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2007 at 5:42 pm

Terry is right. The fact of the matter is that we help the homeless by making our streets clean, safe and inviting. It is of no help to people who lack the means of caring for themselves and who lack the ability or the will to make good decisions to tolerate their self-destructive behavior in our midst - to normalize it.

Those who can't be persuaded to behave in a manner consistent with the norms of civilized and civil society, either because they're mentally unstable or addicted, should be confined and treated until they can live better lives. Those who have the wherewithall to behave better, live productive lives and take care of themselves, but don't do it because we tolerate less would be done a great favor if we ceased tolerating their self destructive activities.

We can assist the homeless and still have "our town". In fact insisting that the homeless behave themselves in our town - and removing them for treatment when they cannot do so - is the best thing we can do for them.

Close the misnamed "Opportunity Center" (the "Enabling Center" would be more apt), and move it to a place where those cured of their diseases would have a chance to fit in a community that matches their economic capabilities. Enforce strict laws against loitering and vagrancy. It's good for us...but it's even better for the homeless.


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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2007 at 6:55 pm

"Those who can't be persuaded to behave in a manner consistent with the norms of civilized and civil society, either because they're mentally unstable or addicted, should be confined and treated until they can live better lives. "

And your effort to get a bill started in Sacramento that would fund that effort started, when?

I agree that we should enforce loitering laws, but we are faced with having to live among the homeless, and they, us. There is no neat solution to this problem. It will get worse as senior citizens begin to get displaced. That's the next, coming, wave.


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Posted by june
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2007 at 7:45 pm



This is a link to the foundations that support O C we need to contact them to develop a strategy for swiftly moving O C out of down town and clearing the streets of vagrants.Web Link

There is a big public health issue. A colleage of mine is a virologist and she pointed out that many of the homeless are vectors for serious diseases such as TB which are highly infectious, when bird flue comes the treat will be greater.

We need to act pro actively to protect the homeless from from themselves and to protect our community .


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Posted by concerned
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 19, 2007 at 9:59 pm

I too have been concerned about the growing homeless population. I avoid some of the areas downtown because of the homeless camped out on the sidewalks. I have also seen an increase in unwell homeless folks in the parks. I worry about my children and others. It is time for this city to have laws that protect everyone's rights. I do think the homeless need services, but I also think public safety is indeed an issue.


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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2007 at 10:04 pm

Alyssa, Please read your post and really think about what you are saying. You come across as heartless, snobby, uncaring and maybe uneducated. A family member is mentally ill, which happens to be a physical ailment, and worked his whole life.....contributed to your being able to use computers, copiers, cell-phones and many other technological advances......he also happens to be a genius, highly educated and seems bigger hearted than you. He has taught me compassion, open-mindedness, caring, and the idea that we should all help each other and the community we live in, which includes ALL people, not just ones who make over a certain salary. If you don't like Paly-alto and the way other people dress move to a Gated community such as Pacific Palisades.... or do you not make enough money to live there. Maybe you should live on the street for 1 day and see what it is like....I bet you have never even camped in the Sierra, but have stayed at the Awanee


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Posted by Sad situation
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 19, 2007 at 10:08 pm

Reality Check - I'm talking about the shiftless souls and if you are a local you should know exactly which homeless people I'm talking about that work our streets begging for handouts and then laugh in our faces all the way to the liquor store for booze and cigarettes. I personally know many of them and their attitude is that we owe them our paychecks. In San Luis Obispo I fed the homeless, housed the homeless, given jobs to the homeless only to be thoroughly disappointed by the outcome. My help should NOT be a way of life for these people. My help should be a stepping stone to a better life that they create for themselves.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2007 at 10:14 pm

Anon, I don't know Alyssa and can't speak for her virtues or shortcomings. But your post is inappropriate in my view; it is just an ad hominem attack. If you are indeed compassionate and open-minded as you say, please show respect to Alyssa and others for their points of view and address try to their issues and concerns.

Again, it does not seem to me to be a sign of weak character or meanness to want a clean, safe, inviting business district and other public places. It seems like a legitimate human desire. Can we assist the homeless and panhandlers while achieiving that goal?


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Posted by Leo
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 19, 2007 at 10:15 pm

Do we know if there are actually more homeless people in Palo Alto? Or is it that there is less open space for them? I do recall that some used to camp where the new soccor field is, on the corner of El Camino/Page Mill. Also, yrs ago, the homeless eould set up camp on other vacant lots (now condos) on El Camino. And, the police used to round up homeless camping along the creeks and put them on busses. Similar to Sacramento, where a large group of people camp along the Sacramento River. Palo Alto is not alone. There are many many towns that try to move the homeless out of their town to another one (Davis to Sacramento, is an ex.).


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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2007 at 10:25 pm

Terry, did you even read her the post? These statements are what I take issue with:

"the Opportunity Center has drawn homeless, mentally ill, substance abusing unfortunates to our city,"

"a particularly disheveled person has taken up residence on the bench"

"It was (and is) crazy to think its a good idea to attract mentally ill people into a community that is technologically based and has among the highest living costs in the country. Even if their mental and addiction problems were magically cured, they have no hope of fitting into this community in any meaningful or productive way. They are doomed to lives of living on charity or government assistance - which can only increase the pressure on them to return to their previous existences."

People are not bad because they are "disheveled"
The VA is here, and its not going away


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2007 at 10:38 pm

Anon, while you may disagree with Alyssa, she isn't judging the homeless as "bad" - she is saying their behavior interferes with the legitimate interests of others. She also has a view about how they should be treated and the impact of the OC. I don't necessarily agree with what she posts, but I think it is a valid point of view.

If you don't agree with her ideas, that's fine; make the arguement. But she is our PA neighbor and deserves our respect, just as you do.


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Posted by wondering
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2007 at 10:47 pm

Anon - if your friend taught you the idea that we should all help each other and the community we live in then how do the able bodied and able minded homeless people help us and the community we live in? I don't really see any contribution.


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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 19, 2007 at 11:05 pm

Why don't the police enforce the sit and lie ordinance? My family was visiting from out of town and we were waiting outside of the Cheesecake factory for our table. My 83 year old grandmother was looking for a place to sit down and the homeless lady with the shopping cart had set up camp and was sleeping on the entire bench and had sprawled all her belongings in front of the bench so nobody could use the area. It's embarrassing to say that I live here when I see things like that.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of another community
on Dec 19, 2007 at 11:29 pm

I agree - why have an ordinance if its not enforced.
However, John, where was the homeless lady supposed to go? She has no home. Maybe, try and put yourself in her shoes? I think its more embarassing that society, specifically a city with one of the top universities and most highly educated people in the nation can't figure a way to help the unfortunate.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2007 at 11:44 pm

Steve, maybe "high education" is over-rated when it comes to dealing with these kinds of issues.

Why is it that rich, liberal bastions have "homeless problems" that usually deteriorate to where they need a sharp correction (New York, SF, Berkeley, now possibly PA)? Smarts don't equate to common sense, and liberal sentiment/pity does not equate to compassion.

There are numerous small-city issues where PA, focused on being innovative and unique, falls short of what other cities achieve. Maybe this issue is another example.


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Posted by Move over Google
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 20, 2007 at 3:03 am

These unfortunate homeless deserve a good education. Stanford must have reserved enrollment for them. We must create model homeless that have made it all the way to Stanford. Someday they could be the next generation of Google like founders.

We are losing out by overlooking such aspects.




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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 20, 2007 at 9:30 am

Move over google, There was a documentary and news article about 2 years ago that interviewed our local homeless people in downtown and it was surprising how many of these people were educated and infact many had graduate degrees but became homeless because they chose to drop out of society.


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Posted by Johan
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 20, 2007 at 9:40 am

Steve, where was the homeless lady supposed to go??? There is an ordinance that everyone should abide to, including the homeless. Why should the rules be any different for her than they are for me?


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Posted by Alyssa
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 20, 2007 at 10:46 am

I'm sorry Anon wishes to attack me personally and make comments and insinuations about my compassion, heartlessness and even my education, rather than dealing with the substance of my posts on this issue.

Perhaps Anon is blinded to the reality of the homeless and their situation here in town by his or her self regard for her own compassion, but the fact is the homeless are harmed, not helped, by the policies and actions advocated by Anon, no matter how compassionate and heartfelt Anon's concern for the homeless. Good intentions are not enough.

How "compassionate" is it to attract to our wealthy and highly educated town legions of barely functioning human beings who cannot help but have their extant sense of alienation from society increased by the contrast between themselves and the majority of people in our town? If they have any inclination to cease withdrawing from society through the use of alcohol and drugs, how likely are they to act on it when the society they see around them is one in which they cannot hope to fit?

How compassionate is it to enable the ongoing personal disintegration of drug addicted and mentally unstable souls - who already have been reduced to begging on the streets - by tossing money into their paper cups or supporting responsibility-free handouts of community food. If they have any sense of self esteem remaining when they get here, it's hardly likely to be enhanced by treating them like children who have no responsibilities to the rest of society or to themselves - not even for the handouts they get.

How compassionate is it to tolerate anti-social behavior - begging, public defecation and urination, harassment of passersby, petty crime - from the homeless? Is it because they are so inferior to the rest of us that it's bigotry to expect anything from them - not just in the way of contributions to society and community, but even in the way of behaving in civilized ways.

How compassionate is it to allow addicted and mentally unstable persons to abuse themselves and society, ruin their lives and the lives of others, and to generally degrade themselves and everything they come in contact with because they choose to live that way, or haven't the self possession to control the path of their own lives?

Wallow in your compassion, Anon. But don't fool yourself into thinking that you're soothing anything but your own conscience by doing so.

The homeless need help, not ineffective moralizing.


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Posted by but for the grace of God
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 20, 2007 at 12:12 pm

Alyssa, you have shown me the light. Being homeless is a crime and they should all be jailed! A much simpler solution, which provides them with a stable environment where they can't re-offend [sic].


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Posted by Alyssa
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 20, 2007 at 12:32 pm

grace, I hope that if you, I or anyone of us ever finds ourselves in the situation of most of the homeless here in Palo Alto, that we're not patronized and tolerated by the kind of "compassion" demonstrated by your post.

Rather, I hope we'd be encouraged and cajoled into better behavior and better lives. I hope we'd not be allowed to lead lives of self-abasement and squalor because others are afraid to "judge". I hope that if we didn't have the ability to help ourselves, that someone with real compassion would force us into getting it.

We're seeing the results of the kind of compassion advocated by grace everyday on University Avenue and our other streets. No one can say this is good for the homeless who are the ultimate victims of grace's kind of compassion.

Isn't it time to try something else?


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Posted by but for the grace of God
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 20, 2007 at 12:43 pm

I say we jail them for their crime and you call me compassionate and patronizing. I hope that if I ever find myself in the situation of most the homeless in Palo Alto, you're not the one watching out for me.

Now, if you follow my suggestion we'd have them all off the streets tomorrow! That is, after all, what you want as well?


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Posted by Pete
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 20, 2007 at 12:53 pm

I didn't see Alyssa say anything about jail. That seems to have been brought into the discussion by grace of God.

I'm not sure I agree totally with Alyssa's proposed solutions, but if you read her posts, it seems much more comprehensive than "jail them for their crime". And whatever its merit, her solution doesn't seem animated by animosity toward the homeless.

Whether Alyssa's is the right solution to our problems or not, she is 100% right when she says it's time to try something else.


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Posted by Pete
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 20, 2007 at 12:56 pm

That last post was premised on the inference that grace of God was making a sarcastic point about Alyssa when talking about "jailing" the homeless. If grace was being serious, I feel sorry for him/her.


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Posted by but for the grace of God
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 20, 2007 at 1:24 pm

Pete, I'm right with you. Alyssa says that jailing them is compassionate and patronizing and you say that Alyssa is 100% right when she says it's time to try something else.

Wow, I wouldn't have gone there but since you are now all saying that jail is too good for them, I guess you know what the next step is...


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Posted by Steve
a resident of University South
on Dec 20, 2007 at 3:38 pm

Having lived downtown more than 10 years, I can authoritatively state anecdotally that (1) homeless have been here all along, (2) there are more each year, (3) but there was no noticeable surge when the opportunity center opened.

However, reading this forum causes me to wonder why downtown dwellers can live with homeless literally right around the corner, yet from the South of Oregon area comes such fear and loathing.


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Posted by Carroll Harrington
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 20, 2007 at 5:29 pm

Although this thread started out as a discussion about the Opportunity Center, I want to point out the success of the Downtown Streets Team. Check out Web Link in Wednesday's Weekly. And see the ad on page 9 for a way to donate to this succeessful, hardworking nonprofit.
Carroll Harrington


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Posted by jill
a resident of Addison School
on Dec 20, 2007 at 5:36 pm



One swallow does not a summer make.

I am glad he got on his feet, good work!

What does this have to do with problem of drugs, ETOH, excrement,begging, vagrancy, crime and the threat to our children?


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Posted by Homelessness SOLVED !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 20, 2007 at 7:46 pm

We have roughly 6000 homes in Palo Alto. If each home takes in just one homeless we would have solved the entire Bay Area's homeless problem.

We are Palo Alto. We must take a leadership role in this.




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Posted by jill
a resident of Addison School
on Dec 20, 2007 at 7:55 pm

that a great idea you are first, then after we 6000 in our homes we can send out the word to other areas to send us your wretched and homeless and they hang around downtown and the O C. we can build a whole community and be a shinning beacon to Iran.

Or we could be heartless and ship them all of to treasure island in SF.Their is lots of vacant military housing there nice views and we can control access and departure / there is only one entrance.


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Posted by Kate
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 21, 2007 at 11:11 pm

The Opportunity Center and other housing for the homeless in downtown Palo Alto has brought a noticeable increase in the number of homeless to our town. The homeless shelters should not be downtown and close to Palo Alto High School. Shame on you City Council for not protecting the kids. Shame on you for allowing numerous shelters to open downtown. Shame on you for not insisting that the police enforce the laws on the books. The downtown area is being overtaken by the homeless and that's not OK by me and many other people that I speak to about this issue. Are you listening City Council??? Do you even care about the views of local residents??? Move the Opportunity Center and other homeless shelters from the downtown area and away from all local schools NOW. City Council has been told about this issue many times. When a tragedy occurs in the near future, the City will be paying someone alot of money for not acting when it had the chance to do so. You are on notice about this issue. Now is the time to do something about it before it gets any worse.


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Posted by Mic Check
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 22, 2007 at 3:11 am

If we wash the streets every 2 hours, there will be no vagrants?


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Posted by Jessie
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 22, 2007 at 1:03 pm

Yes, the scummy streets of Palo Alto do need to be washed. Much more frequently than once every 5 years!

Kate - I agree. I will hold out for hope that the new city council members will make better choices when it comes to cleaning up the homeless situation.


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Posted by Keep streets clean
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 22, 2007 at 9:12 pm

I think the streets should be hosed down more often -- by the property owners.
Most homeowners keep their sidewalks clean, why don't the merchants and other owners do the same?


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Posted by Kate
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 22, 2007 at 9:47 pm

McCheck, Jessie and Keep Steets Clean - I glad all three of you think this is a laughing matter. Most residents don't. We're tired of the police not doing their job and allowing the homeless to take over the public benches. We're all aware of the fact that the downtown homeless shelters entice homeless individuals to settle in Palo Alto and that our City Council allowed the latest shelter to be located a block from Palo Alto High School.


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Posted by Never Assume
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 2, 2008 at 12:21 am

Do Palo Altans really know all the local faces of homelessness?? It doesn't sound like it here...

The most "visible" homeless faces, are, of course, those who sleep and camp out on the streets - and to most people who have posted here it seems that this encompasses all the homeless people in our town. Think again, please.

How many Palo Altans realize that homelessness also happens to people who are suddenly struck with hard times for reasons beyond their control, to families with children, to resident Palo Altans, to people who become homeless for a temporary period but eventually, WITH compassionate assistance organizations, eventually manage to get rehoused? These are the homeless that are perhaps "invisible" to most people in our town, but I assure you; they DO exist.

A Palo Alto resident of many years, a mother of a child enrolled in PAUSD schools, a friend of mine on permanent disability, became homeless after her divorce and her ex-husband's sudden incarceration for something he did (obviously negating his ability to pay any further child support.)

My friend and her child never slept on the streets. Unwilling to deal with the dangers and problems of shelters (especially with a child), she and her child couch-surfed at various compassionate friends' houses for nearly a year. (Other families, without such a support network of friends, DO have to resort to the local shelters.)

I'm sure the many people who saw my friend every day (and maybe sniffed in disdain watching her use food stamps in Safeway) did not realize that she (and her middle-schooler) were homeless but still ONE OF US.

With persistance and assistance from local charitable organizations, she finally was able to eventually acquire subsidized living in this town for herself and her child, but it did not happen immediately ("the system" simply doesn't work that fast, and even the most dedicated homeless people have to jump through myriad hoops.) They weren't "enticed to settle" here, my friend had lived in Palo Alto for many years since before her child was born. Luckily, they still can live here, but are now no longer homeless.

I see lots of huffy NIMBY people in this thread snorting about "street vagrants", but "street vagrants" are definitely NOT the only faces of homelessness in this town, or indeed, everywhere else where homelessness exists.


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Posted by Never Assume
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 2, 2008 at 12:31 am

PS: Reading all this makes me rather wonder how many of those posting here give to any charities for the down-and-out, or volunteer time at any assistance organizations, over the holidays or otherwise during the year...

You never know what your own future might bring.


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Posted by Sam
a resident of Monroe Park
on Jan 2, 2008 at 2:03 pm

Never Assume,

If she was your friend, why did you not invite her to live with you? Not just a couch, but a bedroom for her and her child? As long as it took? I have supported two friends in such circumstances, over the years. However, I insisted that they give up the pitty poddy game, clean up their act, support their kids. It wasn't easy, but they got clean from booze and drugs immediately (no choice!), then they started on a straight path to economic self-sufficiency. Niether of them live in Palo Alto anymore, but they have decent homes in towns they can afford, and they have jobs.

Why does Palo Alto need to tax its citizens to provide a crutch? Charitable people should offer personal help on their own private initiative. We don't need lectures from you.

The vagrants Downtown are killing the place.


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Posted by Never Assume
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 2, 2008 at 2:34 pm

"Never Assume", indeed.

Some of those friends have single-bedroom or studio apartments, others are families in other simlarly small living spaces. At one point my friend and her child did share a bedroom "of their own" at another family's rental place, until that family moved out of state for job reasons.

My friend, who has never been "into drugs and booze", is highly allergic to dogs, and my family has dogs. Her non-allergic child, however, lived with me for the final 9 months until they got their own apartment, sharing a bedroom with my own children, as we do not have a "spare bedroom" in our modest house.

What is a "pitty poddy"? Did you mean "pity party"?

I don't see much feeling of charity around this thread, but I do see what looks a lot like snobby "us and them-ers" wanting to characterize all the homeless as vagrants and then kick them all out of town ASAP so they can be "out of sight, out of mind".

As for the "vagrants", I personally find Downtown to be still alive and well, and I still willingly shop there.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 2, 2008 at 2:38 pm

The idea that charity needs to compete with clean, safe, and inviting commercial idea is a core misconception. It is not un-charitable or otherwise illegitimate to want a nice commercial district - and it seems unfair to suggest so.

We can be charitable, as individuals and as a community, and still deal with panhandling and homelessness.


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Posted by just saw this thread
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 7, 2008 at 11:15 am

I am impressed at the significant points made on this thread ... from both camps. Unfortunately, "homeless" has become the euphemism to include everything from (1) those who had a string of bad luck and sincerely need a hand to get back on their feet to earn their keep in the world..... (2) to those who (may even be highly educated and yet) choose to not earn their keep or take responsibility for themselves... (3) to those who need serious help.... etc.

My understanding is that the OC was originally intended and designed for those who fall under (1).... and I think it's hard to argue with this noble and compassionate goal, if only the problem were so simple.

Unfortunately, it seems that there are a lot of (2) who know how to work the system and (3) who are downright scary to have around our schools or anywhere. My children are not at Paly yet but will be in a few years.

Our tony town doesn't seem to have the backbone to deal with the (2) and (3) folks with a firm hand, which is what they need... and instead the OC may have made Palo Alto a beacon for more of these cases to come here. These folks know that Palo Altans will toss them crumbs... be it out of guilt, compassion, or just to get them to leave us alone. However, most newcomers to town have worked their rear-ends off in order to afford to live here, so it's hard to buy into the idea that the homeless people should be supported without a similar effort on their part.

Now, we contribute to our church which is very active with the homeless problem, we have volunteered to help with Hotel de Zinck, and we have housed friends when they needed it. We like to think of ourselves as compassionate and generous.... but that feeling stops abruptly when confronted with the muck and behavior of the (2) & (3) homeless who camp out downtown. I have never experienced this in any of the neighboring cities.... except San Francisco... not even NYC or internationally. This is not an easy problem whatsoever, but it's high time the powers-that-be in our city acted like grownups and started to do something about the problem.

It would be interesting if the Weekly actually researched this issue with depth and analysis, but I'm not sure they are capable of doing anything more than stating the obvious points which all the preceding posts have done for them already.



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Posted by just saw this thread
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 7, 2008 at 11:21 am

p.s.
Perhaps this is too facetious ... i wonder if the OC could count toward/offset the circus around ABAG housing requirements... or if any of the homeless population could?!


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Posted by Anna
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 7, 2008 at 11:26 am

just....the OC does count as BMR housing under ABAG's silly counting rules. They want us to build more BMR housing. Maybe we can build another ABAG-friendly OC to take up the overflow of 2 and 3 type homeless - since the city obviously isn't capable of dealing with it intelligently.


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Posted by Barbara
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 7, 2008 at 8:14 pm

hmmmm I walked downtown today -- I saw a few homeless people... sad but nothing overwhelming. The downtown area was as "clean and inviting" as ever. Do you think they all take Mondays off?


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Posted by ProblemSolved
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 7, 2008 at 9:17 pm

To Longtime Resident,
It may interest you to know that it was NOT Ronald Reagan who decided to close the mental hospitals.
It was actually the A.C.L.U. that was responsible for this nonsense. The A.C.L.U. deemed it to be an infringement upon the civil liberties of the mentally ill for them to be hospitalized against their will.
Thus the mentally ill were dumped into the streets.
This was done before Reagan took office.
The result is what you see; seriously disturbed people who cannot take care of themselves.
They end up being victimized and/or in need of medical care.
Some are dangerous to themselves or others.
These unfortunates make up a large part of the homeless population
The rest are drug or alcohol abusers who used to be routinely jailed, criminals, or those who are temporarily homeless.
Pedophiles are special cases as they are repeat offenders and should spend their lives in prison.
Children and not offenders are the ones who should be protected.
A caring, compassionate society would sort through these individuals; hospitalize those that need it (perhaps permanently), jail the criminal element - or keep a close eye on them and not tolerate people who simply don't want to work.
For those who are temporarily homeless appropriate social services should be provided.
This is not rocket science but it does require reinstalling some common sense.


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Posted by just saw this thread
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 8, 2008 at 9:56 am

Unfortunately, we have a vast set of issues lumped under one label.... it seems a series of problem cases got dumped on the local community to sort out because other gov't programs/institutions stopped taking care of them.

Still, the question remains, now that they are "living" here, what is our community going to do about them? Punt back to the state?

Who is willing to wade through the issues? Is our new city council planning to tackle this?? or do they prefer to follow the fashion of solving global warming and zero waste while they ignore the problems right under our noses.





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Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 8, 2008 at 5:14 pm

"It was actually the A.C.L.U. that was responsible for this nonsense. The A.C.L.U. deemed it to be an infringement upon the civil liberties of the mentally ill for them to be hospitalized against their will.
Thus the mentally ill were dumped into the streets.

This was done before Reagan took office."

And Reagan did absolutely nothing about it. It seems either Reagan was totally impotent against the almighty A.C.L.U., or he went along with its agenda willingly.


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Posted by Gina
a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2008 at 6:20 pm

Paul,
Looks like your boy B.J. Clinton did nothing about it either. Did that mighty and compassionate liberal take up the cause? No -nor did any other good, bleeding heart, liberal lawmaker. Guess it wouldn't be good for the politics of victim mongering. Why fix a problem when it is so useful.






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Posted by FDFDFDFDFDFDF
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 8, 2008 at 7:59 pm

What surprises me most is "Why do we see these vagrants in Palo Alto Downtown - why not in Mt. View"


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Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 9, 2008 at 2:11 am

I have stated several times that I thought it would be a great idea if the "beat cop" ("flatfoot" as some would say..) would reappear in Palo Alto.....kinda give our town a "homestyle" feeling of security. Just like the city put in the colored signs for the parking of cars for one, two or all day parking, the same could be used for those who sit in the sun for too long..risking a sun stroke or whatever.......
By the way, how many children are presently living in the OC with their parents?? I knew of only one...perhaps there are more???


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Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 9, 2008 at 11:28 pm

Gosh, Gina. Everybody knows Clinton is an ACLU sympathizer. But most people are surprised to find out that Reagan was an ACLU stalking horse. Likewise apparently Wilson, Deukmejian, Arnold, and both Bushes.


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Posted by curious
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 10, 2008 at 2:28 am

I would like to know why the ACLU can use our tax money to fund their rotten lawsuits?


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Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 10, 2008 at 9:22 am

If Bush can waste hundreds of billions to lose two wars at once, we can spare a few bucks for civil liberties. Or do we still want to?

Aren't we getting a bit off topic here?


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Posted by Jill
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 10, 2008 at 10:20 am



Actually the chickens have come home to roost in Palo Alto.

The Mental Research Institute in town, Bateson, Watzlawick,Moser etc produced years of shoddy studies attempting to prove that mental illness is a myth and the fault of the parents.

These studies were used to justify releasing thousands of patients onto the streets with tragic consequences for everyone.




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Posted by Selfish Ostrich
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2008 at 11:40 am

I agree with Kat. Let's protect our high school students from even SEEING the homeless. That way they can grow up to be parents like Kat.


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Posted by just saw this thread
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2008 at 1:11 pm

Is it at all possible to get back on track? This is only the second week of the new year and it would be nice if the posts were a little more constructive.

While some understanding of how Palo Alto ended up with the "homeless" problem is helpful, let's not wallow in finger pointing. I repeat...

"Still, the question remains, now that they are "living" here, what is our community going to do about them? Punt back to the state?

Who is willing to wade through the issues? Is our new city council planning to tackle this?? or do they prefer to follow the fashion of solving global warming and zero waste while they ignore the problems right under our noses."

Based on the comments in the thread regarding the new city council, there isn't much constructive feedback going on there either. It's so easy to whine and criticize, but it takes a lot of courage to stand up and take action.



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Posted by Fed Up
a resident of another community
on Jan 10, 2008 at 4:17 pm

Paul,
Who ever got to vote for the ACLU? And how is it that they decide what is and isn't a civil right? They should be like every other special interest group - privately funded NOT taxpayer funded!


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Posted by perspective
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2008 at 5:29 pm

I hope the City Council and other good hearted souls remember "unintended consequences". Since a great many, various studies hover around 70%, of our homeless are mentally ill, and since the kindness of our little liberal ACLU hearts forbad keeping anyone against their will in a warm, dry place with food and medicine, we have an impasse.

As long as we can't "force" meds, and can't "force" hygiene and "group homes" type living, we will have homeless on the streets.

Far too many people "choose" the homeless life, in the sense that either they are mentally ill and incapable of making sane choices, or make the kinds of choices, like drugs and alcohol, that lead them to the homeless situation.

I hope we, as a society, start coming up with solutions that actually help people, not enable them. The first one would be to begin, with tremendous safeguards, being able to FORCE PLACE PEOPLE IN WARM, DRY, living situations with FOOD AND MEDS, to give them a chance to "clean up" enough to get back on track with job/education/counseling.

Until then, we basically have no way to truly help folks who can't/won't accept help, and will keep seeing the very disabled assert their "rights" and migrate toward "friendly" areas to live on the streets.


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Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 10, 2008 at 6:02 pm

Aw gee, FedUp, I was only pulling some legs, or tails - take your pick. Do you really think the ACLU gets any more tax money than the Consumers Union does?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by "Fed"Up
a resident of another community
on Jan 10, 2008 at 6:29 pm

Paul,
Let them both be privately funded. I'll vote to use the money we save to reopen the mental hospitals. How's that for creative compassion?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 10, 2008 at 8:58 pm

Pretty creative alright. But cutting off all the tax money going to the ACLU (and probably CU too) won't take even one person off the streets. I'll bet double my total tax contribution to both of them on that.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by "Fed" Up
a resident of another community
on Jan 11, 2008 at 12:37 am

I'll bet that ACLU tax money represents a huge chunk of change. Lawsuits are mighty expensive. And I know that their is plenty of other government waste that could be cut.
It should be a top priority in a caring society to look after our mentally ill.
The other great benefit of cutting off taxes to the ACLU is that it will help curb societal rot like pornography etc. But in terms of the homeless, as someone said earlier, why fix a problem that is so useful.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 14, 2008 at 4:49 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Gina
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2008 at 7:48 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Gina
a resident of another community
on Jan 16, 2008 at 1:10 pm

Bottom line: reopen the mental hospitals and about 70% of the homeless issue is solved.


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