News

Vehicle dwellers, residents seek common ground

Thursday meeting focused on compassion and alternatives to a vehicle-habitation ban

Voicing compassion and a desire for both sides to find an alternative to a proposed vehicle-habitation ban, Palo Alto's vehicle dwellers and city residents sought common ground and understanding at a meeting Thursday night.

The community meeting attracted more than 50 people to University Church on Stanford Avenue and was organized by the City of Palo Alto and the Community Cooperation Team.

The two-hour meeting offered both sides an opportunity to learn about each other and brainstorm on alternatives to an ordinance to ban vehicle habitation.

Proposed ideas included giving vehicle dwellers permits to stay in private parking lots at churches, allowing three campers in city and private lots or overnight vehicle camping in the public lot across from the downtown post office at Waverley Street and Hamilton Avenue.

Residents and the vehicle dwellers agreed that having a single lot for an estimated 25 to 50 campers would invite fighting, but smaller numbers of vehicle dwellers at different locations where they could feel safe could be a better solution.

Rick Toker, a member of the Community Cooperation Team, said the multiple, smaller-venue solution was successfully initiated in Eugene, Ore., and has been adopted in Santa Barbara and Venice, Calif. No more than three people are allowed at any site and they are carefully screened for drugs and criminal backgrounds, he said. The City of Eugene saved $200,000 per year in law-enforcement costs, he said.

Stanford University student Marie Baylon, who is working with the Community Cooperation Team, said the Oregon program is run by a social services agency, which acts as first responder to support vehicle dwellers in any crisis.

Others addressed the fear that anything less than a ban would make Palo Alto a magnet for homeless persons. Palo Alto is the only remaining local city without a vehicle habitation ban, according to the city attorney's office.

"That other cities have and ordinance and Palo Alto doesn't by virtue mean that Palo Alto would be a magnet," said Chuck Jagoda, a vehicle dweller and former teacher. Palo Alto has already been surrounded by cities with ordinances for many years, he added.

"If this magnetism were so ... why aren't all the people on the Peninsula making tracks to Palo Alto? I don't see that happening," he said. "It's not that Palo Alto is a magnet. It can be a model," he said.

Some residents said they feel compassion for the homeless but have also been the victims of frightening and sometimes illegal behaviors by persons living in front of their homes.

Stephan Tomlinson and Harris Barton, who both live near Addison Elementary School, said a man who parks his van near their homes has verbally assaulted their children, ages 6, 8 and 10, and the children were brought back to their homes in tears.

"I fear in some cases for my children's safety," Tomlinson said.

Joy Ogawa said a vehicle dweller threw a rock through her window after asking the man not to use her outside water faucet. The hit-and-run nature of misbehaving dwellers makes it difficult to catch persons who commit illegal acts, since they have no fixed residence and can just drive away, she said.

Barton agreed.

"We have to give the police department more tools in their tool box. There's going to be an issue. Somebody's child is going to disappear; somebody's wife is going to be attacked. I don't care what you say."

But Laura McClellan, a Barron Park resident, said those fears prey on stereotypes of the homeless.

"When I was in high school my friend was pulled into a house and raped for three day by a Palo Alto house person. … To condemn an entire group of people is wrong," she said.

In College Terrace, where residents have been tolerant of vehicle dwellers in the neighborhood for decades, Doria Summa said she asked the city to deal with one or two people who are storing multiple vans just outside of the residential parking-permit zone.

The city's College Terrace permit-parking program doesn't allow anyone to park for more than two hours without a permit. But at least one man has 11 vehicles he stores – and rotates every 72 hours – in front of homes and adjacent to businesses in the neighborhood-commercial zone within the first block off El Camino Real, she said.

"It's a stored-vehicle issue in my mind and not about people," she said.

Summa said the solution to the College Terrace problem lies in strengthening the 72-hour ordinance "and give it real teeth."

Vehicle dwellers said this is the real problem. Most try to stay out of neighborhoods, but the few who insist on creating problems should be dealt with through existing laws, they said.

"I am sorry you have had these problems," vehicle dweller Bruce Kenyon said, addressing Tomlinson.

"When people overstep the boundaries and cause trouble to other people, society enacts a law, whether it is effective or not.

"The ban) will only force me top bet out of my car and sleep on the ground in a sleeping bag," said Kenyon, who lost his job and now sleeps in his vehicle in a private parking lot. "Punish the people who are doing these atrocities."

Deborah Baldwin, a Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood resident, said her son has a mental illness and is living in his car. "His biggest crime is traffic tickets," she said.

Palo Alto doesn't offer adequate services that address the underlying causes of homelessness and mental illness, she said.

"There are not wrap-around services. Mentally ill people have so many issues. We were told to have him be homeless in Redwood City," where he could receive mental health housing, she said.

Baldwin said any solution "shouldn't be police-based.

"Why do we have to tax them or fine them, just because they're trying to be in the one place where they feel safe?" she said.

Curtis Williams, the city's planning director, said another community meeting would be held in about four to six weeks to consider the alternatives. A plan would then go to the Policy and Services committee for recommendation to the Palo Alto City Council.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 16, 2011 at 10:20 am

Questions about the concept of multiple 3-camper spots around the city:

1) What do we do about bathroom facilities at these spots? Portapoties? Was this addressed? How about access to clean drinking and hand-washing water? Soap?

2) How does a homeless camper find a site with less than three campers in it to stay at, drive from lot to lot until he finds an opening? How does he know where the lots are? Are there going to be maps, signs marking the campable spots?

3) Is there a limit on how long a camper can remain in a spot? Does he had to have moved by a certain time each day? What prevents someone from claiming and setting up a semi-permenant camp? Or do we wish to allow that?

4) How about placing a webcam to watch the vehicles parked in each lot, for their own safety? If one of them is assaulted or robbed, there could be recorded video of what happened. Would we arrange regular drive-by partolling by police and/or securety personel?

5) How would we manage the screening for drug use and/or criminal past? What would we do if a camper was a parolled felon, kick him out?

6) To accomodate the current max number of 50 campers at 3 campers per lot, you are going to need 17 lots. That's a lot of lots, and it poses logistical issues both for patrolling and for the campers trying to find an available spot. Any ideas where these lots would be?

7) What if there is a bullying camper with a "I want that spot, get out" attitude backed up by threats of physical violence or vandalism on another camper? How would we protect against this? (Remember the classroom bully that said "That's my seat, get out" even though you got here first? Same concept.)

8) What if the camper wanted to cook some food outside his vehicle on a portable BBQ or propane stove. Is that allowed?

I could see a centralized location downtorn that kept tabs on all lots and issued permits to would-be campers for specific spots. The camper could go there both to register and to find out where to go to park. For any camping-rights dispute the police could just refer to the permit.


Like this comment
Posted by Ann
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 16, 2011 at 10:44 am

ho-hum...


Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 16, 2011 at 10:49 am

Ann, ho-hum to you, a matter of existance to others. {erhaps you might care if you were homeless because there, but by the grace of God, go you.

<Prayer> Please never let me be that uncaring towards other people. Amen.


Like this comment
Posted by Ann
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 16, 2011 at 11:24 am

I do care a lot! I am just not so sure about the city plans. Would be great if everyone had a decent places to live. In any case, I also think we need more shelters here in the Bay Area.


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Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 16, 2011 at 11:54 am

The city plans are good so far, but they are still germinating. There are a lot of unanswered quesitons and problems to be solved. We need a properly engineered solution rather than a slap-shot "looks good politically" solution. Let us help guide the thinking here with creative comments and questions.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm

"Palo Alto doesn't offer adequate services that address the underlying causes of homelessness and mental illness"

This is exactly the issue and it should be addressed as soon as this current debate is settled. I really hope this sparks some action.


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Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Churches do not pay taxes on their property because as non-profits, they are supposed to give back to the community. I do not feel Palo Alto as a city needs to provide housing for the homeless, but a city/church partnership might work, so long as there were limits to the "charity" bestowed on these people.

That said, I would feel mighty uncomfortable if there were a homeless person living in his car on my street. Surrounding cities have laws against this for a reason.

The ban makes sense to me.


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Posted by cities
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2011 at 1:22 pm

yes, police should not be involved in these issues.


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Posted by george
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 16, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Good meeting last night. I think 3 is too few for an area. 5 or 6 would be a small enough number to minimize problems.

Waste disposal and clean water is a problem at any area chosen.

A permit issued by the City would guarantee a spot. If a "bully" tried to oust the designated permit holder, the police can be authorized to deal with it with an ordinance enacted specifically for that purpose.

There is no one size fits all ordinance. It, or they, will have to be crafted to deal with specific problems.


Like this comment
Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 16, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Alice Schaffer Smith is a registered user.

I think the dialogue is the welcomed starting place. I think this should continue with other ideas which might include detailed responses from the Opportunity Center etc.

How many of these homeless in cars are Veterans, for instance. Is it possible that the VA can provide some housing parking spaces with facilities to help out? Perhaps at Moffatt Field where there is a lot of open space there might be a facility there as well? I am not sure 2 meetings are sufficient but better than none. Were there minutes taken which detail the first meeting? These could be widely circulated via the city's mailing lists.

If you assume that the unsheltered are different from those with sheltering in vehicles, should we be looking at the needs of those who are unsheltered as well?


Like this comment
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Somtimes I think we induce a sense of helplessness in car dwellers
who might otherwise take more initiative.

Everyone points out how expensive it is to live in Palo Alto. So how could an unemployed homeless person get a start here, with presumably a poor work history and a skill set not suited to work in this area?

It seems some effort should be made towards relocation where job opportunities and living costs are not so challenging. Otherwise,
holding out the promise of sanctioned car dwelling does not get at
those holdover issues and creates a dependency for the car dweller
that is unsustainable.

A limitless permission to sleep overnight in cars will only exacerbate the problem. How do you separate the lazy from the disadvantaged?

A certain number will always "use" the permissiveness
to create a lifestyle (look at Victor Frost), which when once in place will be well nigh impossible to change.

Each homeless person should undergo an assessment to determine cause and possible remedy for the homeless situation, and time limits imposed to prevent someone from a default do-nothing position. Some responsibilities are necessary or this will always be a problem with no solution.


Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 16, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Citizen, I think that pretty much every homeless person must be dealt with on an individual basis, as they are all different in the reasons they are homeless, the desire to not be homeless, the baggage they carry, and so on. Some might feel hopeless, some might actually enjoy it. Having all those individual cases is cumbersome, so people will often lump all homeless together and paint them with their own brush of preconceptions. This is completely the wrong thing to do. It is a little bit more realistic to catagorize them into groups, but even that will lead you satray when you try to deal with them. They must be dealt with and evaluated as individuals. This will be time-consuming, but there is no other rational way.

I would like to point out that some of the people wishing to sleep in their cars in Palo Alto may not even be homeless. They may actually have homes in distant places like Los Banos, but they have jobs here, so they sleep in their cars during the week and drive home on Friday night. It's possible.

I once had a ticket to deal with in Santa Cruz and I had to be at the court house very early. I didn't want to have to deal with that trek early in the morning, so I piled into an old RV I no longer have and I slept on the street in Santa Cruz, had my coffee, went to court, and then drove back over the hill to work. I was not homeless, but I chose to live that way for the night.

I am willing to bet that not everyone sleeping in their cars is homeless, but we won't know for sure until we look, will we? I'll bet you could fill a book with what you find in the lives of only 30 homeless people. You will find young adult who have not learned to take care of themselves. You will find parents and grandparents on the street with a different reason for each person. You will find short-timers with light at the end of the tunnel and you will find lifers and many in between. Just analizing their coping skills for living that way would be facinating. But we won't know until we look.

But "looking" has its own dangers. Some may be unstable, possibly dangerously so. You could get sucked into listening to life-stories that ramble on for hours and go no place. You could easily be lied to in the hopes of getting a handout due to sympathy or a need to cover the real circumstances and reasons. I like the idea of small groups of them that you could talk to with a can of pepper spray hidden in your pocket, just in case. Learn how to approach them, the questions to ask, the way to respond when questioned, the gifts to bestow ("Gee, I didn't know I had this candy bar in my pocket. I can't eat the nuts, do you want it?"), how to gain trust, and so on. It would be interesting.


Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 16, 2011 at 6:18 pm

There is a reason that most cities have an ordinance prohibiting the use of any vehicle as shelter on public streets. Palo Alto already has more than its share of vehicle dwellers. Providing sanctuary will only bring in more. Most people have made a huge investment to live in Palo Alto neighborhoods. We should not have to share our streets on an overnight basis with anyone who decides to pull in and park. The problems and issues are many. There are health and safety issues, public blight, and the uncertainty of what threat these people can pose. I fully realize that not everyone living on the street is a criminal or poses a threat. However, I also know that many are there for reasons involving far more than just being laid-off or down on their luck.

Much has been said on this forum about homeless issues and the decline of our downtown area here in Palo Alto. It has been the source of great frustration with merchants, shoppers, visitors, and residents. It has also been one of the primary reasons that people avoid downtown and choose other communities to visit and shop. It is a nuisance and disgrace to constantly have to deal with drunks, panhandlers, and unacceptable behavior. Enough is enough.

The reason we have so many homeless issues in Palo Alto is due to our generosity, tolerance, and acceptance of people. However, it has reached a point where that generosity and tolerance begins to be taken advantage of. Sanctioning any type of mobile homeless shelter is taking matters way over the top. Palo Alto plays host to more homeless outreach programs than any other city on the peninsula, including using local tax payer money that exceeds $100,000 annually to fund many of these programs. We offer the Opportunity Center, Downtown Streets Team, Hotel DeZink shelter program, and the downtown food closet. Other cities need to carry some of this burden, but they don't, and why? Because they gladly allow Palo Alto to carry the load as well as the problems and issues that go along with attracting not Palo Alto homeless mind you, but homeless from throughout the bay area. I would say with confidence that very few of these homeless people have many community roots or ties.

Palo Alto has nothing to feel guilty about when it comes to helping those in need. We do plenty without having to take on the responsibility and problems that would go along with a mobile homeless shelter.


Like this comment
Posted by danny
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2011 at 8:22 pm

The reason we have so many homeless issues in Palo Alto is because wealthy fundraisers have been allowed to compete with the poor for the same homeless dollar.

$24 million dollars for an 89 unit housing project was an insult to the poor. So are the salaries.


Like this comment
Posted by selfish selfish selfish
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 17, 2011 at 10:47 am

I love how the folks are claiming that "people avoid Downtown" in one thread and then claim "they can't park near their houses because of the Downtown businesses" in another thread.
Amazing how their argument shifts based on their own wants!


Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 17, 2011 at 12:30 pm

The majority of the residential street parking that is being taken up adjacent the downtown area is being used by employees, not visitors and shoppers. It has nothing to do with selfishness or spin. The fact is that in many respects downtown businesses are struggling to stay afloat, with a few exceptions, especially in the restaurant and retail industry. Just look at the vacant store fronts and for lease signs. One of the most frequent reasons that people cite in not wanting to visit or patronize downtown are issues that involve the homeless, drunks, panhandlers, and those dealing with mental problems. Residents, shoppers, visitors and business owners have all expressed their frustration over these issues.


Like this comment
Posted by selfish selfish selfish
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 17, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Again, that's self-serving nonsense. The claims they are making is that it is the retail workers that can't afford parking permits. Now they're claiming it's the office workers creating the problem. Office Workers in downtown Palo Alto would have no problem paying the miserly sum.
You could at least TRY to keep your stories straight.


Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2011 at 11:37 pm

I would like to suggest that there are already people sleeping in their cars in Palo Alto, but that the situation is currently under minimal control as there is curently no place to send them where we have agreed it is okay. Instead, they are doing it in any place where they find they are not noticed or that they are ignored. In these places there may not, probably are not, restroom facilities, and that nearby trees are frequently used. I would further propose that an arrangement like what we are discussing would allow a quite literal "clean up" of the situation.

It also occurs to me that some of the nay-sayers are at least partially right, that allowing people to sleep in their cars under these conditions will increase the number doing it to some degree. People sleeping in cars illegally in nearby cities will be tempted to drop anchor in Palo Alto for the night rather than continue staying where it is illegal, but I doubt we will be getting people from Fremont, or even Sunnyvale. Also, once it is legal to sleep in your car, homeless people who have shunned sleeping in their cars due to possible legal issues bay be tempted to start trying it. I would think we couls easily double the number of car-sleepers, but they would be under relative control.

I would be interested in the reasoning behind limiting the number of car-campers in any one spot to three, and how they arrived at that number. I would be open to the idea of putting a soft cap of three on any one site, but if all the spots fill up, raise the limit to 4 or 5 for the night. The trend of cap-raising should be watched to see if there needs to be more sites. I could also see a larger lot with sites like a drive-in movie, and with video cameras covering the area for security. The camping population could be monitored by common inexpensive security personel instead of by expensive police.


Like this comment
Posted by Chuck Jagoda
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 18, 2011 at 9:05 pm

I write in response to Phil from Old Palo Alto neighborhood, six comments above. His statements are within quotes. My responses are indented and not within quotes.


"There is a reason that most cities have an ordinance prohibiting the use of any vehicle as shelter on public streets."

Only one reason, Phil? If there is only one reason, it must be that old standby, fear. And prohibition works to keep homelessness out of sight and out of mind, right? The old ostrich approach. If you can't see any homeless, maybe the possibility of YOUR becoming homeless also disappears.

"Palo Alto already has more than its share of vehicle dwellers. Providing sanctuary will only bring in more. Most people have made a huge investment to live in Palo Alto neighborhoods. We should not have to share our streets on an overnight basis with anyone who decides to pull in and park. The problems and issues are many. There are health and safety issues, public blight, and the uncertainty of what threat these people can pose. I fully realize that not everyone living on the street is a criminal or poses a threat. However, I also know that many are there for reasons involving far more than just being laid-off or down on their luck."

Just HOW do you know that, Phil? What reasons might be included under "involving far more than just being laid-off or down on their luck"? You think the people living in vehicles might really be wealthy terrorists or narco-traffickers or Wall Street embezzlers lying low?

Or are you perhaps just expressing good old fear of the unknown? Having a demon, boogeyman, or devil to serve as the repository of All Evil, to be Badness Incarnate is very convenient, attractive even. If all the badness can be contained in a few people, or one person, or one group of people--it's really quite comforting. Then one doesn't have to worry about bad things in oneself or people like oneself. Blowing up "what threat these people can pose" into something really worrisome and really fearful is quite attractive--it localizes and personalizes the danger--again OUTSIDE the fearful person.


"Much has been said on this forum about homeless issues and the decline of our downtown area here in Palo Alto. It has been the source of great frustration with merchants, shoppers, visitors, and residents. It has also been one of the primary reasons that people avoid downtown and choose other communities to visit and shop. It is a nuisance and disgrace to constantly have to deal with drunks, panhandlers, and unacceptable behavior. Enough is enough."

You'll be relieved to know, Phil, that the matters that concern you are improving. A recent front page DAILY POST story told of Palo Alto taking in 1.4% more sales tax in the most recent quarter. The article quoted the city manager (I believe) who said that the shopping in downtown Palo Alto is a unique experience compared to anywhere else. He also credited the police for keeping downtown Palo Alto safe and secure and the Down Town Street Team for keeping the streets clean and tidy. So, I think we all owe the Down Town Street Team (made up of out of work, unsheltered, poor people) a "thank you," don't you, Phil? Isn't that a contribution in your book? See, when the unsheltered aren't moving into your neighborhood and scaring small children and bringing blight to neighborhoods, they're out there sweeping the streets, adding value to downtown Palo Alto's shopping experience.

And that's in addition to the money the same Down Town Street team saves the City of Palo Alto on street cleaning every day. Street cleaners in San Francisco get $25/hour. The DTST works for about $5/hour. Do you recognize savings when you get them from people who are without traditional shelter, Phil? Or do you see those brooms and dustpans as weapons of aggression?



"The reason we have so many homeless issues in Palo Alto is due to our generosity, tolerance, and acceptance of people. However, it has reached a point where that generosity and tolerance begins to be taken advantage of. Sanctioning any type of mobile homeless shelter is taking matters way over the top. Palo Alto plays host to more homeless outreach programs than any other city on the peninsula, including using local tax payer money that exceeds $100,000 annually to fund many of these programs. We offer the Opportunity Center, Downtown Streets Team, Hotel DeZink shelter program, and the downtown food closet. Other cities need to carry some of this burden, but they don't, and why? Because they gladly allow Palo Alto to carry the load as well as the problems and issues that go along with attracting not Palo Alto homeless mind you, but homeless from throughout the bay area. I would say with confidence that very few of these homeless people have many community roots or ties."

I would say with data based on asking actual unsheltered people that approximately 80% of unsheltered in Palo Alto have long-standing ties to the community. One guy goes back over three generations in the area. Others grew up here, worked for (helped build the wealth of) successful Silicon Valley giants, have invested a lot of their lives here. I'm sorry that you feel you've been too generous. But I'd like you to consider a few things: many unhoused sleep on the 22 bus as it traverses the Peninsula during the night. So, don't we have to count that as the whole county contributing some housing, taking some share of the burden? The armory in Sunnyvale houses between 100 and 175 of us a night in the winter. So Sunnyvale pulls some of the load. San Jose has more shelters and lots more meals than Palo Alto. So while you're feeling put upon and like Palo Alto already gives too much, don't forget to shed a tear for other entities that do some things Palo Alto doesn't.

And as for this supposition so popular with so many--that Palo Alto is this giant Homeless Magnet, drawing people from all over the Peninsula, the whole Bay Area, and perhaps the whole country--maybe even homeless from other countries! As near as I can find out this differential in the laws against overnight car dwelling has existed between Palo Alto and the rest of the Peninsula for at least several years. If this "obvious" Law of Unsheltered Migration that you and others cite is true, why hasn't it been working so far? How come it's always "going to happen as soon as the word gets out"? What is taking so long? Has the number of people in Palo Alto too poor to pay rent GROWN in any appreciable amount greater than the increases in unsheltered in the whole country? I don't know if you're aware but we're in the midst of the greatest transfer of wealth from the poor and middle classes to the already quite wealthy in history.

The Jobless Recession continues to roll over the land, knocking people down from their jobs and homes and it hasn't stopped--just because of some temporary recovery in some places. New people are getting stricken all the time. People who used to contribute TO food banks now draw food FROM food banks. Reverend Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco was on CBS this morning (Sunday 9.18.11) pleading for more help to feed the huge increases in poor and homeless he has to feed every day.

Maybe if all those homeless heard about the hobo heaven here in "Too Generous Palo Alto," all those poor (or claiming-to-be-poor) people would move here? Is that what you think? What do you think keeps them poor in San Franciso when they could be living large here in the Homeless Mecca called Palo Alto? What do you think stops them from invading, Phil? Poor communication? Lack of transportation? Maybe we can still block the invaders at the gates to the city if we reroute some of the energy and resources for those church meals into building barbed wire barriers along our border with Menlo Park?


"Palo Alto has nothing to feel guilty about when it comes to helping those in need. We do plenty without having to take on the responsibility and problems that would go along with a mobile homeless shelter."

I'm sorry for you, Phil. It sounds like you never have or will experience the joy of giving. Nothing feels good in the same way that giving does. You know that saying--”it's more blessed to give than to receive”? It's true. You'd have to see the look in people's eyes when they give you a sleeping bag or get up at five a.m. to make breakfast for you in a Hotel de Zink-participating church or serve you a meal at a church. It's a form of satisfaction available no other way than giving to someone less fortunate and in need. I'm not sure you actually believe that those of us without fixed shelter are really in need, but trust me, the adventure of living outside wears off after a while. It's not nearly as glamorous and fun-filled or as easy as you might think.

I understand you want to avoid, ward off, and insulate yourself from the trappings of poverty. Though some of us work as much as we can and some of us spend all our time looking for work and some of us have quite a few jobs--we don't make enough to make ends meet. Some people who have homes need the services available--they come to the free church meals, they take free clothes and toiletries when offered, they need the food stamps they get.

You are very lucky, Phil. Don't waste all your resources and energy complaining about others whose resources are less and needs greater than your own. Use at least a little of your time to say "thanks" to those who contribute to your welfare and to God or The Universe or to Luck that--at least for the time being--you have a fixed home that you can afford to live in.


Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 18, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Chuck, wow, you sound angry. You are right, and I am not going to argue against you, but you sound angry at people who might think as Phil does. The only criticisms of your post that I can make are:
1) Wall of text, but it is also very informative. You make me, more than ever, want to know more about these unsheltered people.

2) You are targeting one poster, and hitting others who think the same way more indirectly. Phil, I am sure, is not a bad person, and I suspect you already know that, he just needs a small education and attitude shift that would come with knowing a little more. Making him feel targeted will not soften him, it will only harden him. He needs out love. :)

3) We know little of you, and how you came to know so much about the unsheltered. I suspect there is much more you could tell us. I, for one, would love to hear it.

4) Why did it take you this long to pipe up? I think we couls all learn from you, please join in sooner next time.

And Phil, please do not go away, we need to hear all sides. You provide valuable input too. I would like to see a GOOD solution, not just A solution that may not fit well. We are talking about people's lives here, we cannot be casual about how we deal with them, and we cannot lump them into one pidgon hole and condem them.


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Posted by Kris
a resident of Stanford
on Sep 18, 2011 at 11:40 pm

I appreciate the efforts made -- during the forum, in this article, and in its comment section -- to understand the diverse perspectives and inherent complexities of this problem.

Participants in this online discussion have brought up some excellent points about any potential overnight parking program. I am a member of the Community Cooperation Team (CCT) who has been involved in research; this has included speaking with the organizers behind the Eugene, Oregon St. Vincent De Paul Overnight Parking Program (OPP). Using that program as a model, some questions here can be answered relatively straightforwardly– those who are parking have to apply through and are screened by OPP, which also places participants, cleans bathrooms and trash, and manages parking sites, which are volunteered by churches and businesses. The essential idea is that vehicle dwelling should be treated like a social services and not a criminal enforcement problem. Nonetheless, important questions brought up in the comments are still open to examination and debate, and by no means do we have to exactly follow the OPP model.

The kind of dialogue you all have contributed to, followed up with focused investigation and communication, is exactly what we need to craft a more effective alternative. If you have any ideas or comments, feel free to contact CCT at communitycooperationteam@gmail.com. Further, if you are interested in attending any of our meetings, where we actively address questions not unlike those being brought up in this online exchange, you are always welcome to join us on Sundays at noon at University Church (1611 Stanford Ave).


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Posted by They Snooze, They Lose
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2011 at 1:39 am

All churches should welcome vehicle dwellers to stay in their parking lots, esp. University Church (1611 Stanford Ave) since they are fighting for their rights and preach to help others in need.

If not addicted to drugs or alcohol, they are homeless because they are simply lazy and they know America allows it. They have too much pride to take blue-collar jobs. Meanwhile, immigrants who do not even speak English find jobs and live in houses or rent apartments. Complacency does not belong in Palo Alto. Trying to allow a mixture of extremes is like believing busing works for integration and we all know it doesn't, based on history and the present. EPA students attending Palo Alto Schools don't mix with Palo Alto children because their home lives are so different.


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Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 19, 2011 at 8:36 am

"If not addicted to drugs or alcohol, they are homeless because they are simply lazy and they know America allows it."

I have known men made homeless by vindictive ex-wives. They had good jobs, but were financially sucked dry by the courts. They were not addicted to anything but their children. They slept on friends couches, in tents, and yes, in their cars (ever see a homess guy sleeping in a nice Lexus?) One guy I knew who slept in a tent for over a year had a buisness with many employees, and it all went down the tubes because fighting to see his kids took all his time and money.

Please don't tell me that all homeless are either drug addicted or lazy, I don't buy it. Some of them are good guys who simply have the wrong gender.


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Posted by Chuck Jagoda
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 19, 2011 at 10:13 am

Good Morning to all. I'd like to apologize to Phil and anyone who read my comment above. I did give in to anger. As I wrote to Phil, finding a certified target you can feel good about heaping abuse on is very attractive and I succumbed to temptation. It was self-indulgent to heap abuse on Phil, especially while criticizing HIM for his unfriendly remarks towards us unsheltered types. To be fair--it is easy to look at other people and make assumptions about them which justify condemning them. That goes for Phil, me, and the rest of the human race. If I want open mindedness and good will from Phil, the best way to get it is to live it and I indulged in wise-ass, supercilious condemnation. Phil is a child of God, too. He's not bad for his thoughts and opinions, he's another human being.

Thank you for your wise, considered, sympathetic comments, Just Me. You make a lot of sense and don't descend to anger.

As for me, I'm happy to blab most anything you want to know about me. I have visited my children and grand children for years here (since 2003) and have usually stayed in motels on those visits. This time I just don't have the money. I did try to get some sleeping-in-exchange -for-labor gigs but they work out. I did some home health care for a couple of people but it didn't seem like a good solution to my habitation situation. For the past two years that I've been in Palo Alto, I mostly slept in my car. Then my lower legs were getting too swollen and the doctor said homelessness resulted a much higher (turned out to be 4 times greater) mortality rate and that I needed at least 7 hours of horizontal sleep for the sake of my heart.

So, since last December I've made horizontal sleep a priority. I slept in the armory in Sunnyvale till I closed Mar 31. Then I slept outside for a couple of weeks. I was fortunate to be accepted into the Hotel de Zink where I slept on the floors of three churches for three months. Since late July, I've been back on the ground, at Cubberley, and elsewhere.

I agree with you, Just Me, there ARE some fascinating stories out here. Like yours about the guy with a business who lost it all. I'm trying to collect stories and make them available to readers who are interested like yourself. If you want to write to me at chuckjagoda1@gmail.com I'll be glad to share more.


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Posted by They Snooze, They Lose
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2011 at 2:12 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Phil
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 19, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Chuck, I too wish a dialogue and absolutely no need to apologize. We are all entitled to an opinion, and under ideal circumstances, the education process you speak of should work both ways. I fully understand that the truth and logic often times invokes anger, so again, no need to apologize.

Getting back to the issue at hand, I do not comment out of fear or being uninformed. As a society there should exist some responsibility to help those in need. Here in Palo Alto, for the many reasons I spoke of in my earlier post, I believe our community already goes above and beyond in terms of being tolerant, generous, and patient on the homelessness issue. Again, compared to other cities on the peninsula, Palo Alto plays host to far more homeless outreach programs than anyone else, including tax payer contributions that exceed $100,000 to help fund many of these programs. All I expect is that other cities share some of the responsibility.

Much has been written, debated, and discussed on how the quality of life has been impacted in the downtown area. It is clear to anyone that applies even a shred of common sense that the downtown area has a disproportionate number of drunks, aggressive panhandlers, those suffering from apparent mental disorders, and people living on the street. We do not need to extend these problems and issues further by sanctioning a mobile homeless shelter. As I acknowledged in my earlier post, I know that not every person living on the street is a criminal and poses a threat. Trust me, I get it. However, I'm not naive and also know that a largely disproportionate number of homeless people are there because of the choices they have made in life, with choices being the operative word. Give me a break. You don't need to have a degree to know that the majority of people living on the street, and how they got there, has at least something to do with either criminal behavior, alcoholism, or substance abuse.

The vast majority of Palo Alto citizens have worked hard to create a community that is a positive and pleasant place to live. Palo Altans for the most part make huge investments and sacrifices to try and achieve this goal. At the same time, not blind to social issues, they are equally generous and tolerant. I can speak for many others when I say that I worked hard for what I have achieved in life and I will not apologize or feel guilty for that accomplishment. I didn't have anything handed to me nor did I expect it. I worked from the ground up from very humble beginnings. I earned everything that I have one step at a time, one day at a time. Bottom line, with all due respect, I feel that people like yourself lower the bar when it comes to human expectations. It's an enabling attitude that plays on societies emotions. We make it too easy for too many people to exist on the backs of society. If you think that sounds callous, so be it. Palo Alto does more than enough already, and I will not be faulted for simply wishing to live in a city where I don't have to deal with aggressive beggars, people passed out drunk in public, and those sleeping in their car in front of my house. Beyond that, you are not my responsibility.


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Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 19, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Phil, I too have built myself up from scratch, starting wiht jobs at just above minimum age, and working at them, long and hard, trading up jobs, adapting, finding my "groove" and getting good at it. However, not everyone has the luck I, or you, have had. When someone is in need, I do not measure the appropriateness of my response against what others have done, I measure my response against what I can do, did I do all I could? I learned long ago not to wait for the guy next to me to make the first move, if a move is called for, I want to make it and I want it to set the tone. While I would encourage surrounding cities to join in with helping the homeless, I refuse to ait for them so that we can follow their lead.

Sometimes, you can help someone greatly by making minimal effort yourself. I like to look for opprotunities for small output on my part, maximal positive impact on the target. Sometimes a little more effort is required from me, and then I evaluate if I can afford to out it out. I can still make a huge impact. As an example, I have seen a car break down in front of me, and I have aborted my rushed plans to help oush the car to the side of the road, load the family into my car, and drive them the other way from where I want to go to deliver them safely home. I donate blood, talk about minumal effort and maximum result. I have followed cars limping on a flat tire until they pull over, and then I have helped them change their tire. I see opprotunity in the homeless problems where, with small effort from me, and some fun, I can actually help some people. If I can, I want to. It would be unchristian not to. (No, I am not a religious nut.)

Chuck, I hereby dub you our resident homeless vehicle dweller, and I have questions for you based on this thread, I beg you to answer as honestly as you can, or don't answer at all, okay?

The accusation has been made that homeless people are either substance abusers or lazy. Do either of those descriptions fit you? How about criminal records?

You say your children and granschildren live here, why are you not living with them?

Do you have another place to be, were it not for a need to be here? Another home perhaps?

What prevents you from holding a job, getting your own place to stay, and paying your own way?

Tell us about the homeless shelters and why you prefer sleeping in your car?

Do you know of other vehicle dwellers who have no substance abuse problems, have real reasons for not being able to work, and live on our streets? Can you summarize their stories please.

I would like to point out that oyu write very well, you are a good communicator. But I don't want you to tell all only here, the venue is too small. Have you ever thought of writing a book on the homeless experience, not just for yourself but for others you have known? What are the dangers, how do you protect yourself, what are your resources, what do you lack? What could be changed to make your life better? What is your aim in life?


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Posted by Phil
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 20, 2011 at 9:33 am

To Just Me, I most certainly believe in helping others and have actively participated in these efforts throughout my life. In addition to making annual donations to outreach programs and other charitable organizations, I have also aspired to treat everyone with dignity. I have volunteered my time in assisting the disadvantaged with job training and development skills. Again, I do not feel that I am out of touch with the issues at hand.

I also believe that any assistance and outreach must be balanced with higher expectations and consequences. This country provides many more opportunities than obstacles, if, people make an effort to seek those out. As a society we owe people an opportunity, not success. What we do with that opportunity ultimately dictates the kind of life we lead. I'm all for contributing in creating opportunities and providing a reasonable level of assistance. What we can't do, or be expected to do, is constantly enable and support those who choose not to support themselves. That line gets crossed and smeared, to the point that it adversely effects those who have worked hard to create a positive existence.


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Posted by No One Should Be Homeless in Ameerica
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 20, 2011 at 10:25 am

Amen, Phil.

Immigrants want to move here for the opportunities and we have Americans who have no idea how good they've got it. A trip to a Third World would help kick them into shape.


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Posted by jobs
a resident of Southgate
on Sep 20, 2011 at 10:34 am

I have been in Shanghai recently, everywhere i went i can see hiring ads on the windows of shops,restraunants,everywhere. Even a laidoff worker being helped by their neighborhood association(big organization) to set up a newspaper stand to sell maganzines and newspapers plus doing some sewing works for her costomers would earn $1000 a month.How can this greatest country in the world a mere ten years ago come to this way?Do not understand.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2011 at 10:56 am

Charity begins at home. For those who would accept people living in cars on the street there is a solution:

1. Get unanimous written consent from your neighbors to allow people to live in their cars on your street. 2. Create a 'live in cars zone' in your neighborhood with boundaries that do not come any closer than two blocks to other neighbors not voting for this plan. 3. Then recruit people who live in cars to come to your new zone.

You and your fellow neighbors can then sleep well knowing you have had the courage to help those you think deserving and the rest of us can live our lives without people living in vehicles in our neighborhoods.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2011 at 2:32 pm

When did "Let them sleep in their cars" become the compassionate position? Phil is on the right track: it's not compassionate to say, "We'll give you a free place to park. After that, you're on your own."


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Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 22, 2011 at 11:14 am

If they want to be able to become virtual residents, then they need to pay their taxes. We tax property owners, renters (indirectly via landlords) and hotel visitors.

What should be their tax rate?


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Posted by MKL
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 22, 2011 at 1:09 pm

@Toady: That was a rather silly comment with respect to taxes? To that logical end, they do pay their taxes for what they own- they pay registration fees. If they could afford more, they would pay more. They cannot afford an apartment or a home, and therefore do not pay taxes to live in one. I am a native Californian, but married to a Brit. I find the cultural difference amusing. Whenever I have visited my in laws, I have yet to see a homeless person, though they do exist in London and I'm sure elsewhere. It is, however, pretty uncommon relative to the US, because they have so many programs and housing options. They also view health care as a right, not a privilege. The citizens, in turn, pay considerable more taxes.

We choose not to have these sorts of social programs and benefit by having considerable less tax. However, does this mean we just ignore the homeless and those in need? Should the sick that do not have health coverage not be allowed to secure services?

The issues, though different, are related. Americans have placed fewer things in the "rights" basket and more in the "privilege" basket, including basic humanitarian aid and health care to those that cannot afford them.

I don't care that my family pays hefty taxes if it means that other people that are more vulnerable and for whatever reason not capable of caring for themselves, are taken care of. I really wish that more people felt this way. My family lives in a nice home, dresses well, eats well, and has great preventative medical care. I really wish this was the reality for everyone. Don't you?


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Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 22, 2011 at 1:12 pm

You could tax many of them at their earnings rate, minus the hand-outs they get. That would come to fairly close to nothing.

Even a small tax bill on these people would probably amount to a large percentage of their small income, larger than most of the rest of us pay. And how would you enforce and collect it?

Let's look at getting them earning and producing first, and if we manage that, then taxation will follow. But I do not see taxing people who are standing in line for free food.


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Posted by Phil
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 22, 2011 at 3:00 pm

MKL, I have no problem with providing some reasonable level of government, tax based assistance to those truly in need. It's the "truly in need" part that I'm concerned about as a tax payer. From my experience we have made it far too easy for too many people to rely on others to take care of their needs. Many people requiring assistance got there because of the personal, destructive choices they made, be it alcoholism, substance abuse, or a criminal background. They failed to take advantage of the opportunities that society already provides such as a free education and even job training. Society has lowered the bar, making it easier for people to slide by and do whatever they want, knowing that the tax payers will bail them out down the road. I maintain that as a society we should expect more from people and stop giving these dead beats a pass. We don't owe them anything more than an opportunity in life. If they discard that opportunity, then they can live with the consequences. I'm not picking up that tab.


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Posted by MKL
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Phil: I agree that we should not tolerate people taking advantage. I am, however, not convinced that this is what is going on.

During law school I clerked at Bay Area Legal Aid and helped many people that were initially denied various government benefits such as Denti-Cal, Medi-Cal, SSI, IHSS, Paratransit services, etc. by appealing their cases in front of the relevant administrative law judge or body. I was astounded at how many of them had needs far beyond my expertise, and most, though not all, had severe identifiable mental illness, as was discovered through the collection of evidence to support our argument. I remember many clients, but some more vividly than others: one who had schizophrenia and believed she was connected to those in a soap opera she religiously watched, another that had a hoarding disorder and had to vacate her apartment because she couldn't even walk in due to all the accumulated stuff all over the place, another that was a victim of violent trauma and watched her sister's murder- she had severe post-traumatic stress. None of those mentioned above could get on without some measure of public assistance whether it be free rides to medical appointments or monthly SSI checks due to permanent disability or free dental treatment for painful abscess. I promise you that in my opinion none of these people was taking advantage. I had a difficult time with some of them because they were too proud and didn't want to provide various pieces of information that could win their cases.

I think it is presumptuous of us to assume that these nameless people in their cars are capable of more. Maybe they are. Maybe they are in transition? Maybe some are capable and maybe they are not, but to make gross generalizations about them is a tad unfair, because we simply don't know. I'd like to assume that most people would not stay in their cars if they could help it and with some guidance (identification of services) coupled with a bit of help, we could make it a temporary stay.

As someone said in another post, "Have you ever spent a night in a car?" It is not pleasant. It gets cold. There are no toilets or showers. It isn't exactly luxury living. Many years ago, I knew someone who did this for a few months while he finished at a vocational school to become an auto technician. He slept in his van and secured a membership at a 24 hour fitness to take his showers. He said it was miserable. He graduated from the school in Fremont and now works as a BMW master tech. He pays his taxes and has a comfortable life. It was a transition for him. May not be the case for all though.


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Posted by Pudding Head
a resident of another community
on Sep 22, 2011 at 7:13 pm

To those who think vehicle dwellers want to move into their neighborhhods or camp in their driveway: Every American wants to be the king of his or her OWN castle. Not a underling in someone elsies home or turf.

Many dwellers dislike the residential part of town because - at least the majority of them that I have encountered - simply don't wish to be in the neighborhood. They say the people dump their ashtrays and cigarette butts, car and fast food rubbish all along the street, make too much noise when they come home after a heavy night of drinking, slamming car doors and arguing. They say the people walking by are nosey gawkers that stare through every open hole of the cars and RV's. Then they mention others whom come after midnight and dump their old couches and mattresses, usually in close proximty to our put upon vehicle dweller. I'm am sure, but I suspect there is alot more crime happening behind closed and locked doors then you'll ever find in any one of the openly displayed and usually monitored cars and rv's.


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

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