The new homeless: laid-off and middle-aged

Rise in homelessness among older workers concerns service providers

A disturbing trend in laid-off middle-aged workers is growing on Palo Alto's streets, homeless advocates said.

Among the city's vehicle dwellers, most are in their late 40s, 50s and 60s, said Rev. Andrew Burnham, recovery pastor at Peninsula Bible Church on Middlefield Road.

Estimates of how many people live in their cars are based on contacts with homeless advocates and the police. City officials estimate there are one to two dozen vehicle dwellers in Palo Alto; the dwellers themselves said there could be as many as 50.

Among the hardest hit by the recession were construction workers, Burnham said: "Those who were living paycheck to paycheck were quickly out on the streets."

But Burnham and others said the trend has not yet peaked.

"There are more people now on the edge. A lot of people who are fearful are coming to the church who say they can't make their mortgage," he said.

At a recent gathering of the Community Cooperation Team, a group of vehicle dwellers and supporters, none of the 20 or so people present who lived in their cars were under the age of 40.

Several of the vehicle dwellers said that being without a job for any length of time has made them unemployable and that their ages played a significant factor.

Burnham, who works with the homeless at the church, agreed.

"With the age discrimination that goes on, it's tough out there when so many people are looking for work," Burnham said.

Marie Baylon, 22, and Aparna Ananthasubramaniam, 20, Stanford University students who are part of the Night Outreach group, an organization of about 30 students who are reaching out to the city's homeless, said that while some vehicle dwellers have mental illnesses or might abuse substances, they have found many who have lost their jobs.

Baylon said she is working on developing demographic information so that organizations serving the homeless can target their specific needs.

One woman who identified herself as Shirleen and who lives in a motor home with her boyfriend said she was laid off more than 1 1/2 years ago from her receptionist's job at a construction company and hasn't been able to find work. Her boyfriend works piecemeal construction jobs as they become available, she said. Receptionist work has become more difficult to find, as companies switch to automation, she said.

But she wants people to know that she is still looking for work and that she does not use drugs or alcohol, is not mentally ill and doesn't have a criminal record. She wants to work, and she wants a home.

"I'm more hopeful than my boyfriend that this is just a temporary thing," she said.

Sue Dremann

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Posted by Rose Bayly
a resident of another community
on Aug 9, 2011 at 6:46 pm

This timely article points to a growing problem all across the country, although prosperous Palo Alto would be one of last cities we'd expect to have homeless living on the streets.
Along with concern, one would hope social services would lead them to shelter and a social worker to help find jobs working at anything. In hard times, anyone without work will have to be willing to take any honest, paying work. The receptionist in the story, for example, admits her job is a dinosaur. She could use a nudge in a new direction and not continue to wait for lightning to strike. I sincerely hope Palo Alto will not ignore the homeless, but will steer them to services that will put them back on their feet and under roof.
Rose Bayly

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 10, 2011 at 9:20 am

Too put it harshly - Palo Alto has a lot of homeless because we welcome them. How many were PA residents before they moved into the OC or lived in their vehicles? There are jobs out there, although many are fast food, restaurants and retail, not particularly well paying, but honest jobs the same.

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2011 at 10:02 am

Sometimes people have to move in with their relatives

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 10, 2011 at 11:14 am

>> There are jobs out there, although many are fast food, restaurants and
>> retail, not particularly well paying, but honest jobs the same.

It is really sad that the people who make these proclamations do not even seen to care or do a reality check ... there are not jobs out there ... do you not read the news or even pop your head out of the window and look.

Stores and restaurants are closing all over Palo Alto, and those that have not are not doing well and many are threatened with closure.

This far right wing conservative nonsense has been repeated so often some people do not even care what the reality is, they just repeating it like some evil unthinking mantra.

I do not know why they just do not post that they think these people are evil and do not care about these people and want them gone even if it means their deaths.

Just be honest conservatives, don't hide your beliefs behind claims of kinder gentler, we know it is nonsense.

Like this comment
Posted by David G
a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Many people ARE looking for honest work. Perhaps they aren't spending the necessary 8-10 hours a day looking for it as I am because they put family before work or career. They obviously haven't learned to prostitute themselves yet. Of course work and business would love to be first in the working person's priorities and let the families exist to support their interests. That is called, "responsibility".

To the lady who asked, "how many of these homeless are natural Palo Alto residents", I ask how many Palo Alto residents have been forced to immigrate and now sustain themselves on other local economies.

To the person whom said,"It is really sad that the people who make these proclamations do not even seen to care or do a reality check ... there are not jobs out there ... do you not read the news or even pop your head out of the window and look.", I say, They only watch FOX news. That beam of light from their televisions are the only reality they get. THAT, mingled with the old memories of the Reagan years fermented in an insulated environment of plenty. Perhaps we should be like Atherton - erect huge stone and cement fences around our homes and increase the muscle of our police force.Then criminalize these homeless and put them behind a second stone wall called prison. They are so expensive to house that perhaps we should consider the death penalty...

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 11, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Anon - Taco Bell is hiring Web Link, Nordstrom Rack in EPA is hiring, several stores at Stanford Shopping are hiring, Stanford has 48 job opening in Administration alone including Executive Assistants.

David G - I didn't ask if people were natural PA residents - I was curious how many of the homeless and vehicle dwellers moved here specifically for the services and ability to live in their vehicles as opposed to former residents who are down on their luck.

Like this comment
Posted by Immigrant Survivor
a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Sharleen says: "Receptionist work has become more difficult to find, as companies switch to automation."

Sharleen that is exactly where I started, as a receptionist at age 50. I came to America as an immigrant and suddenly found myself a single Mother with two teenage sons. I worked all day and for more than 5 years attended evening classes at Foothill. With my computer training I was able to hold down a good job with a financial adviser, and finally retired aged 70.

If I can do it you can to, but here's a hint, you must keep up your appearance!!

Like this comment
Posted by Realist
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 13, 2011 at 12:45 am

Palo Alto mom-
You have done your research and you are obviously very passionate about this subject.

However, I spend plenty of time at the Opportunity Center and you should know this: I know at least half the people who live there by name and all of them were at one point homeless in Palo Alto before they moved in. Now they are housed and I have NEVER seen an OC resident panhandling downtown. The OC hasn't attracted homeless-it has housed them. AND it is unique to Palo Alto in this County. If you hate seeing homeless people in Palo Alto, you should be grateful that the OC is around.

I have also never met an unhoused person who doesn't have some sort of mental diagnosis, physical disability, or some history of drug addiction (usually dual diagnosis). In 90% of the cases, the differences are that they had a terrible, often horrifying upbringing. A lot of them lived through homelessness as children. Others were raised in a broken foster care system in which they were raped repeatedly. It is easy to say "I'd never use drugs," but I'm sure you had a much better upbringing, and a much easier road, than those living in their cars right now.

Getting a regular job at Nordstroms Rack is terrifying to many of these people. I know. I work in a weekly class trying to build their confidence up enough to get them to the point where they think they are worthy of holding a job. At the OC. We got a guy a job on Thursday after working with him for three years.

You should get to know the population better before you judge them. And-you should count your blessings.

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 13, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Realist -

I think the OC is a wonderful place, I've volunteered there and donated things over the years. I'm actually very grateful we have it in our community. The kids who live there and attend PAUSD schools help bring a great perspective to a different type of life than many PA kids are used to. Their other programs are great and PA residents take advantage of them - housed and unhoused alike. I also have no problem with a formerly homeless person/family moving to Palo Alto to take advantage of the OC or of BMR housing. I wish there were more places like the OC.

My comment about jobs was directed toward many of the people living in vehicles who claim they can't find work. While it is true that they may never find the good paying jobs they have had in the past, there are jobs out there. (For example, the former receptionist could certainly work at Nordstrom Rack.) My question about people moving here was really related to people living in vehicles, since we are one of the few places that allow people to live in a vehicle, do people "move" here just for that reason?

Anyone can see that most of the homeless on our streets need more than a job and a place to live. They need other care that I wish was more easily available to them. I do count my blessings. Thank your for helping build the confidence of these people.

Like this comment
Posted by Edgarpoet
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 31, 2012 at 10:54 am

Maybe YOU need to get around to the homeless community
because I have done just that, and I HAVE met dozens of homeless
that DO NOT have a drug problem, alcohol problem or mental illness.
You then are PART of the problem, spreading assumptions and lies
to further impede my recocvery from homelessness.
So, I challenge you to an intelligent debate on this subject because
I have complied true facts and you are logged down with "assumptions".
I would appreciate it if you keep your biased assumptions to yourself.

Like this comment
Posted by kg2095
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2014 at 7:21 pm

To palo alto mom: I would like to see you try and secure employment at Taco Bell at 52 years of age and no fixed address. As soon as they find out the applicant is in their 50s it's over. The same as when they ask the applicant's address and find out they are homeless - no way they will hire.

I don't live in your town. I live in Sydney in Australia. Up until 3 months ago I was a software developer in a small company. I had been with them for the last 3 years but they haven't had paying work for me for the last few months and finally had to let me go. I have over 20 years experience as a software developer.

I have since spent all my savings on living expenses and now I am living in my Suzuki hatchback. No one wants to hire me because:

1. I am 52 years old
2. I am unemployed
3. I am homeless

I have tried to find work in petrol (ie gas) stations and supermarkets (too old, and overqualified) as well as in software development (too old and unemployed). The economy is OK down here - unemployment is at 5.8%. But if one has been out of work for a while, or is older than about 40 then employers are not so interested. If one is 52 and unemployed and one of the hated homeless population then there is simply very little chance of getting one's life back.

Given the above can you imagine what it's like to have people like you telling me I'm lazy, unmotivated, don't want a job and chose to be homeless?

You should be ashamed.

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