Palo Alto softens stance on vehicle dwellers

After considering a ban on vehicle dwellers, city now looks at less drastic alternatives

Palo Alto officials are backing off their proposal to ban vehicle dwellers and are now considering less stringent approaches, including designated lots for the homeless and no changes at all.

The city had considered in July a new ordinance that would ban vehicle dwellers and make repeated violators subject to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. After hearing from concerned homeless advocates and church leaders, staff decided to delay discussions of the new ordinance and to work with the community on alternative proposals.

The proposed ban was prompted by complaints from several neighborhoods, most notably College Terrace. Curtis Williams, the city's planning director, said most of these complaints involve safety and sanitation issues.

Staff said most cities in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties already have bans on vehicle dwelling in place. Palo Alto's proposed ordinance was modeled on those of neighboring communities.

Over the past few months, city staff and members of the Community Cooperation Team, which includes advocates for the homeless, have met to discuss alternatives to an outright ban. Among those recommended is an ordinance similar to the one in Eugene, Oreg., where certain churches, businesses and city facilities designate lots for vehicle dwellers to use.

The council's Policy and Services Committee, in its first discussion of the controversial issue, was sympathetic to the group's idea. Though the committee didn't take any votes Tuesday night, members agreed that the city should consider various alternatives to its earlier proposal for a full-on ban on vehicle dwelling.

"We do have a quandary here -- we have a mixture of objectives," Councilman Pat Burt said. "We want to continue to be a safe community and we want to continue to not just have compassion, but to have programs that have people move out of difficult circumstances to the degree that we're able."

Burt called the Eugene model a very positive one, particularly if commercial properties benefit from their arrangement with the vehicle dwellers. Councilman Larry Klein also said he would like staff to further consider the Eugene model. But he said another option on the table should be the "no action" alternative -- doing nothing at all.

"Maybe we were better off before we started poking around with this problem," Klein said.

Klein also had major reservations about allowing city facilities to be used as designated sites for vehicle dwellers. He said he would not support use of city facilities, arguing that this would create a significant bureaucratic process.

Councilwoman Karen Holman agreed with Klein that the solution should not involve city facilities. She and Councilwoman Gail Price also advocated getting the city's Human Relations Commission involved in this issue.

Williams said staff plans to hold more meetings with the community group over the next month and a half and then hold a public hearing before returning to the council in February with specific proposals.

"There has been a very positive approach on everyone's part to try to work together, try to come up with, first, some direction for an approach to provide an alternative," Williams said of the community group. "Then, if we need to regulate, how do we do that in a way that does not criminalize those who aren't causing a problem?"

Williams said Palo Alto's homeless residents are homeless for many different reasons. Some suffer from mental problems, while others are victims of the nation's economic slump.

"There are certainly those that we heard from who a few years ago had jobs and homes and this wasn't an issue and now they lost their jobs and they're in financial straits," Williams said. "There are others who find that while they're homeless, living in a vehicle is a more secure environment for them than living out of the vehicle."

Fred Smith said he was forced to live in an RV after he lost his job as a software engineer. Smith said he's now living off Social Security payments and looking for work. So far, however, he's had no luck in finding any.

"This is the only place I have to live," Smith said. "It's like I'm being punished for being out of work and trying to survive."

Complaints about vehicle dwellers making a mess are exaggerations, Smith said.

"I don't enjoy living in a vehicle. I want to get out of this as soon as I can," he added. "Please do something that doesn't hurt us."

Related stories:

Vehicle dwelling: Harmless or nuisance?

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Posted by Gotta Laugh
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2011 at 7:51 am

There is NO COMMERCIAL BENEFIT to having a car dweller park in front of your business. None. Zero. over.

In fact...when car dwellers start parking in your lot and in front of your business...your customers complain (if your'e lucky) and leave, soon followed by your employees. THEN you will find yourself living in a car.

I beg the City of Palo Alto police department to discourage the dozen or more RV and car dwellers in the Commercial/Transit/Industrial neighborhood. Some of these squatters even throw up orange cones to prevent others from parking near their camp.


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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 16, 2011 at 8:19 am

""Maybe we were better off before we started poking around with this problem," Klein said."

I wonder if Larry has any car campers in his neighborhood?

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2011 at 8:44 am

The homeless situation is a regional problem not just a Palo Alto one.

It is time that the State did something rather than leaving it for individual cities. The problem is that different rules in different cities make certain cities magnets and others no go zones. The homeless need somewhere to camp on a permanent basis and there should be state sponsored sites in areas where there is space for them to sleep with basic facilities away from residential and business neighborhoods.

The Occupy movement shows that there has to be some legislation about sleeping overnight (which is camping) on public property without permits being illegal. One man's freedom of speech should not include freedom to camp in public or freedom of the public to go about their daily business in a free manner. My freedom to live my life is just as valid as anyone else's freedom and if people can't work it out for themselves, then unfortunately government must do it for them.

I have great pity for those who are truly without homes because of financial or badluck reasons. Unfortunately, they are the minority and the greater majority are just bums or anarchists. Don't infringe on my rights and I won't infringe on yours.

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Posted by Not a churchgoer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2011 at 8:47 am

Americans are so complacent because Americans enable their people too much. Palo Alto is for successful people, not vehicle dwellers. Immigrants are taking over because they appreciate the freedom and opportunities offered in America. Our Americans are ungrateful and lazy.

If we can't kick them out to Oakland (where fear will force them to find a job), churches should offer their parking lots and facilities since they preach to help others. University Lutheran Church (1611 Stanford Ave.) should be the first to volunteer their lot since Reverend Shaeffer is supportive of vehicle dwelling.

Just get them out of our neighborhoods. We deserve better for the mortgages we pay.

Like this comment
Posted by Bad idea
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2011 at 8:48 am

Palo Alto has to deal with this problem. I wish the city council would show some courage and follow up on their plan.

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Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2011 at 9:34 am

I do not favor the "do nothing" plan. I have to sympathise with home and business owners who are concerned about safety, vandalism, sanitation issues, and other related vehicle-dwelling issues. However, I also do not favor an outright ban. I like the idea of finding a solution to the vehicle-dwelling problem that addresses the needs of all. I like the idea of safe lots for them to park in, with sanitary facilities, a safety patrol (security guard armed with a cell phone, not police unless there is a problem), and registration. The registration process should include a questionaire into their conditions and reasons for vehicle dwelling. The data collected could go a long way towards finding an even better solution for some of them. Churches, homeless advocates, social workers would know where to find them to do their thing, perhaps some of them would want to bring food and/or health programs. A little weeding through the registrations might also produce some people wanted by the police.

Most importantly, if the police then came across a vehicle-dweller outside this approved campground, it would be much easier for them to insist that the vehicle dweller move, because there would be someplace for that person to go. Enforcement of vehicle-dwelling in non-approved areas would be much easier.

What would then be needed is a ban luxury motorhomes in the vehicle-dwelling lots. No tents would make sense, but how about trailers? Tent trailers? Would the lot have to empty daily to prevent semi-permenant camp sites and vehicles on blocks?

We don't want Soylent green here.

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Posted by No Vehicle Dwelling
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2011 at 9:34 am

The council needs to show some spine, rather than acting like a bunch of politically correct namby pambys.

This is a nice town. Let's not turn it into an Occupy Oakland Encampment.

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Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2011 at 10:23 am

In a sense the actual owners of city property is us. Who paid and pays for it?
If the city is not willing to use these facilities for car dwellers why should they expect people to have them in their neighborhoods?
If the bureaucrats say it will involve too much bureaucracy clearly its within the hands of the bureaucrats to resolve that.
I have no problem taking care of these people as long as their behavior is appropriate and the city takes responsibility

Like this comment
Posted by Observer of the homeless
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 16, 2011 at 10:27 am

It *is* a sanitation issue, for sure. Dogs and kids tramping through human excrement in the ivy? The unmistakable odor of urine in certain public areas? I was pleased, if you can call it that, to observe one car dweller conscientiously and properly disposing of waste liquid via a plastic jug into a porta potty.

Can we educate some folks to "bag it" as dog walkers do?

And by the way, I have the same level of disgust for parents who toss used disposable diapers wherever they feel like.

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Posted by downtownhealth
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 16, 2011 at 11:14 am

Love the way the city doesn't want the homeless on their property but sure they can be all over the public streets. Some are probably respectable people, but I have had them in my neighorhood and their are drug deals going on and music playing and going the bathroom in the park. We should not allow on the streets. The church or redcross or opportunity center are good places

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Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2011 at 11:56 am

"Complaints about vehicle dwellers making a mess are exaggerations, Smith said."

Really?!?! I was walking the dogs and came upon an RV that had been parked in the same place for some time. There was an obvious trail of toilet tissue in the gutter between the sewage dump valve on the RV and a storm drain about fifteen feet away, and a lovely odor of poop.

If you're gonna dump your tanks could you at least take the effort to back up your RV to the drain and hose off the residue?

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Posted by Susanna
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Why should the homeless be allowed to stay here when our children, who lived in Palo Alto all their lives, have to move to places like Riverside or Stockton in order to afford housing??? Yes, Palo Alto is a great place to live if you can afford it; if not, please try Riverside or some other less expensive community.

Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 16, 2011 at 12:16 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

( Cross posted from the earlier story, but relevant here )

Many cities have a homeless ( due to bad personal choices ) problem that the solve by having a charity give out bus tickets, especially at this time of year. Guess where a majority choose to go? The SFBA is one of the prime spots..No freezing cold and a chance to score easy pickings.

Out in Denver, these " homeless by choice " often defend the top spots, sometime with violence that actually makes headlines...

A spot on a city heating system grate commands the top of the list when it comes to " defending your turf " at this time of year.

Yes, we have missions, but they have strict rules on alcohol and drugs...which is why I bring up the words " homeless by choice ".

Palo Alto looks better to many of the turf war losers. Just go to a charity, get the charity to give them a bus ticket and you have another " homeless by choice " person in the ( not so Golden ) State.

Warning: these " homeless by choice " are better suited in your more violent cities like " Oaktown " they may disrupt the peace in Palo Alto and claim turf there.

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 16, 2011 at 12:21 pm

So they are dumping their human waste into the storm drain? Great. Straight to the Bay without any treatment.

Enough is enough.

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Posted by South PA Neighbor
a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 16, 2011 at 12:24 pm

"Complaints about vehicle dwellers making a mess are exaggerations, Smith said." Not so, I walked through the Cubberley parking lot and a vehicle dweller had simply opened the door of his camper and thrown food scraps onto the ground.

We have many vehicle dwellers at Cubberley - too many. North Palo Alto should take their share. If south PA takes 50%, then north PA should take 50% that's only fair. Cubberley has 3 pre-schools and the Young Five's Program. If Cubberley is forced to take their share then Lucy Stern should take theirs

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Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Palo Alto was recently delegated the smartest place in the state for having the highest number per capita degreed residents. And if IQ is not your ability to take a test, but your ability to ADAPT, then I say let those without the necessary jobs, income or balls (and this might get censored by a woman at PA Online) move elsewhere where it is easier for them to adapt to a successful life which does not include parking and living on my street.

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Posted by WTF
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 16, 2011 at 12:51 pm

I'm shocked and disgusted at the lack of humanity you all show by demanding Palo Alto remain only for the wealthy and educated. You do realize the vast majority of homeless have serious mental illnesses? That the economy is still in the toilet for people who don't work cushy tech jobs? If we are the most intelligent city in the state, why can't we put our smarts to use and come up with a better solution than "kick them out, they smell bad rabble rabble rabble!" Where exactly will they go? You don't care, you just want them gone.

I think we all agree that we don't want people in our city living in cars parked around our neighborhoods. This includes the "vehicle dwellers" themselves. It's amazing so many people in these comments are missing this point and not looking for more practical and compassionate solutions.

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Posted by Not In My Backyard
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I am disgusted by some comments above. Palo Alto may have been the "creme de la creme" place to live many years ago but now, the elitest attitude of this council and previous had manifested to the citizens such that NO UGLYNESS is allowed in Palo Alto. No ugly trees. No ugly cars. No ugly people. OMG! Lets not forget that these people had productive lives most likely before life circumstances made them homeless. Living in cars is a direct ripple-effect of the housing/foreclosure problems all over the nation. It's just not little ol palo alto with the problem, it's everywhere. And to think some of those ridiculous statements above come from EDUCATED PALO ALTO residents. Are you living paycheck to paycheck? I hope you keep your job so you don't have to live in your BMW or Jaguar. However, if you do, as a taxpayer, you can park safely in front of my house on the street anytime.

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Posted by born here
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 16, 2011 at 12:59 pm

People sleeping in their cars are from here. research was done long time ago. Homeless may be from Wichita, Kansas, that means they are from here. I am immigrant (born in another Country) and have job and extra large mortgage. we don't sleep cars, dear churchgoer or whoever you are.

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Posted by Thoughts....
a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Before making up your mind. Think this..."Where would I go and how would I live if I lost my job and home??"
I have two sons who have been looking for jobs for over two years.
The oldest lost his job and home in another state and is living with his girlfriend.
The youngest is married and fresh out of the army so we moved them with an aging grandparent.
We are feeling the empty wallets as we continue to help them out.... but we are lucky to be among the few to have found creative ways to get by.. others are not as lucky.
I can think of one other thing other than food and a place to stay that the homeless can really use these days and that is FREE Internet.
This allows them to find jobs and helpful information to getting other help they need and to keep in touch with family far away.
So please open your hearts to those in need this year.
They need your smiles and tell them that you care.

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Posted by no easy answer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Frankly, local churches do an enormous amount to help the homeless through groceries, meals, hosting Hotel de Zink, sponsoring the Opportunity Center, supporting the Downtown Streets Team, etc. Whether you agree with this or think these services only attract more homeless, churches have been trying and learning effective ways to deal with the issue. However, the overwhelming problem of homeless is more than local churches can handle.

More and more, the homeless burden is hurting the churches. When people/families see too many homeless hanging around a church and using the grounds to relieve themselves, cause damage etc, then those churches lose parishioners... then they lose funding and they struggle to stay afloat. In the same way local businesses are impacted.

Our gov't keeps trying to ignore the situation in the hope that it will go away. If all of those charitable services stopped tomorrow, some of the homeless may leave, but not all, and the problem will probably get worse. It's time for the local gov't to get creative.

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Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2011 at 2:27 pm

T H I S N E E D S T O S T O P.

The sanitation and safety issues are out of control. City Council, are you listening????

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2011 at 2:58 pm

When did "Let them sleep in their cars" become the compassionate position? We have code standards for dwellings that cars and RVs don't meet. If people need temporary housing, let's figure something out. But park in the street to sleep in a car? Not good for the squatter and not good for the neighbors.

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Posted by Yuck!
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 16, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Tell me about it! The homeless are urinating on buildings downtown. The homeless follow no rules and do whatever they want. This town is becoming really gross!

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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 16, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Since Larry Klein wants to duck the problem, I think Seale Avenue, where he lives, according to public records, should be innundated with car campers. Maybe he will then get the gravity of the issue.

I will be passing out flyers with this message on every car camper's rusty van or RV that I encounter. The flyer will simply say, "You are welcome to park on Seale will be treated with compassion"

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Posted by watsay
a resident of Southgate
on Nov 16, 2011 at 4:18 pm

thats a false assumption that homeless are ''anarchists'' or something. there is no ''typical'' homeless persons. people dont have to tell you their personal business just to prtove their points. thjats bigotry to categorize any type of person. ignorance.

Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 16, 2011 at 4:27 pm


Typical or untypical, the homeless are welcome to camp on Seale Avenue, where Larry Klein lives. They (you?) will be treated with compassion.

Like this comment
Posted by Sandy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 16, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Why can't the City of Palo Alto stand on their own two feet and stop this problem. Next thing you know we will have all the people who live in their cars coming to Palo Alto because it is tolerated here. Palo Alto is not the City it use to be because of this situation and I am sure that the business owners are very concerned. It affects the business owners, but not the City Council because the City Council makes sure they aren't parking in front of their homes or anywhere near their homes. This has got to stop!

Like this comment
Posted by Riverside Rocks!
a resident of Atherton
on Nov 16, 2011 at 4:44 pm

"Yes, Palo Alto is a great place to live if you can afford it; if not, please try Riverside or some other less expensive community."

Not only is Riverside cheaper, but there are no ARROGANT PRETENTIOUS SNOBS there.

Like this comment
Posted by Anne
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 16, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Riverside Rocks: Then why are YOU living in Atherton?

My level of frustration with the City Council is off the charts. They are essentially saying 'screw the citizens who deal with this issue on a daily basis'. They are also cowards, who bow to the forces of political correctness. Yes these people have problems- Palo Alto offers a multitude of services that surrounding cities don't- and there is help out there. College Terrace and Downtown North have been hit particularly hard by the vehicle dwelling problem, but apparently, and possibly because of the high renter quotient- don't matter. When did paying your way and following the law become a crime?

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Posted by ThisIsEasy
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2011 at 10:37 pm

If the city and tax payers were to build a homeless/mobile living facility next to the voter approved, via measure E, green waste treatment plant in, or in the vicinity of Bixby Park. Whereas such individuals, or groups thereof, perhaps, could reach reach a peaceful resolve. And for those mentioned as "car dwellers" could deposit their waste, without incumberence directly into said facilities. No prob.

Like this comment
Posted by Kick them out!!
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 16, 2011 at 10:40 pm

If we can't kick them out to Oakland, churches should offer their parking lots and facilities since they preach to help others.

The homeless are welcome to camp on Seale Avenue, where Larry Klein lives!!
Kick them out!!

Like this comment
Posted by Not-so-blindly-PC
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 17, 2011 at 8:40 am

As soon as I cross Page Mill Rd. coming south on El Camino, I start counting the RVs and vans that have set up homesteads in our "commercial" district. This problem did not begn with the economic downturn. It grew out of the welcoming stance PC Palo Altans have taken toward the homeless, and word has spread over the years that Palo Alto will look the other way.

I have seen jugs of urine in the gutter, and have to wonder where the solid waste is. Try turning right onto El Camino with your sight of traffic blocked by a string of RVs. Boulware Park has a permanant encampment of RV's, which the police refuse to investigate. Who are these people, really? I doubt that the few people profiled in the weekly article onths ago represent the majority. I do not feel safe walking these streets lined with live-in vehicles day or night. I fear for the children who play in Boulware Park, or who ride past these vehicles on their bikes.

If some are brimming with compassion, let them invite the vehicle dwellers into their homes-- not just allow them a parking space on their street to impact the entire neighborhood. Create an "Adopt-a-Vehicle-Dweller" program where tax paying residents invite homeless to share their rooms and marble baths--now that is compassionate treatment. Offering commercial, church or neighborhood lots just inflicts the eyesores and dangers on neighbors who may have chosen Palo Alto as a beautiful, family safe, walkable community.

The do-gooders and PA City Council should carefully consider unintended consequences of their "live and let live" attitudes.

I hear there are great job opportunities in Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas, for unemployed but motivated workers.

I have to agree with those who feel the solution is not to spend city funds helping to provide housing arrangements for these unfortunates. That will only bring more.

Like this comment
Posted by Riverside Rocks!
a resident of Atherton
on Nov 17, 2011 at 9:06 am

The irony is amazing. All you liberal ACLU types not caring about the homeless. Oakland, Riverside, the midwest is good for these folks, but no - not Palo Alto!

Palo Alto is the home of Limousine Liberals and Not In My Backyard Democrats!

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 17, 2011 at 9:21 am

To Riverside Rocket (of Atherton no less). YOU are criticizing Palo Altans?? Now that IS a Hoot. This street parking could never happen in Atherton. Think it would happen on Anna Eschoo's street? Meg Whitman's? Or in Menlo Park? What Palo Altans do have is a wishy washy spineless city council of "bleeding hearts" which will not protect its own citizens who are paying the taxes. Each election we hope things will change, but it doesn't. This council will talk it to death, staff will wallow in the verbiage,
and the legal department will be AWOL.

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Posted by South PA Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2011 at 9:26 am

Resident, Downtown North says: "Terrace and Downtown North have been hit particularly hard by the vehicle dwelling problem, but apparently, and possibly because of the high renter quotient- don't matter. When did paying your way and following the law become a crime?"

This is elitist: because Cubberley and the streets around Cubberley have at times been inundated with vehicle dwellers. We'll very soon become America's version of "Dale Farms", the area in Essex, England that has been taken over by campers and has cost the local government 20 Million Pounds and 10 years to attempt to move, and they keep coming back.

So long as Menlo Park and Mountain View have sensible laws that do not allow campers on the street, they will gravitate to Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 17, 2011 at 11:50 am

I have no issue with Palo Alto reaching out to the homeless, or being less humane in our approach to this difficult issue. Speaking as a long time resident, and someone who has spent considerable time volunteering his time with homeless outreach programs and job training, I do take exception with our city leaders not placing some reasonable limits on our tolerance and generosity.

Palo Alto is one of the very few cities in the entire Bay Area without some restriction on public car dwelling. It is a common sense expectation that addresses issue of health, safety, sanitation, and peace of mind to residents. Without this restriction, our city will continue to be a magnet on this and many other levels.

We have a long history of playing host to numerous homeless outreach programs, far exceeding that of any other community in our region. It's not even close. Additionally, Palo Alto tax payers allocate a six figure annual allowance to fund many of these programs.

I have to believe that the homeless advocates take advantage to a certain degree of Palo Alto's relative wealth, our tolerance, and sense of humanity. They play to our better instincts, and play the guilt card to maximize their position. This for the majority of people seeking assistance with few if any ties to this community.

Ignoring issues such as these, or catering to the advocates to an unreasonable level will only create further resentment. Most Palo Altans have worked very hard and made sacrifices to be a part of this community. We do not appreciate our quality of life being compromised. Our downtown area is a less desirable place to visit, dine, and shop due to the disproportionate number of vagrants, drunks, and panhandlers. It's disgusting to walk through my neighborhood and have to look at plastic jugs filled with urine outside a van door where someone spent the night. Can't begin to imagine where the hard waste ends up. It's a blight in many residential and commercial areas to have motor homes lined up for weeks on end, garbage strewn about along with rusted grills and debris.

Again, I do not see this is an issue of whether or not we should reach out to those in need. It has everything to do with Palo Alto already exceeding that standard, and asking ourselves what reasonable limits need to be in place. The unpredictability and negative fallout of being a magnet city for homeless is getting out of hand. Our city leaders need to concern themselves with preserving our quality of life here in Palo Alto, gratified in knowing that we do already more than any other community in our area.

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Posted by pares
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 18, 2011 at 9:14 am

Well said Phil. The City Council needs to step up and do its job. From the article, apparently they backed down because the homeless and homeless advocates made the City Council feel guilty. Those who favor allowing vehicle dwellers to be allowed should be first in line to offer street parking in front of their own homes! How long do you think any council member would put up with that?

Palo Alto needs to enforce reasonable restrictions. Maybe we will just have to wait until the next election.

And for those of you who think it is cold hearted not to tolerate this on your street, why don't you volunteer first? And many residents do donate generously to the community, food banks, and shelters.

Like this comment
Posted by WeNeedShelter
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 18, 2011 at 10:33 am

Why do we keep pretending that we offer great services to the unhoused population?

Stop pretending that you are helping by just showing up to give food to the homeless during Thanksgiving. Do something for someone who really needs help.

I am not a big fan or people living in their cars. But I have nothing against it either. I just think Palo Alto is a great place to live. Why can't our homeless population enjoy our city as well?

We just need a nice shelter, a place for anyone to sleep, take a shower and to use the bathrooms. We can build building and/or houses such as the "projects", so more people can have a place to live. We also need MENTAL help for those in need. It is so sad that some of those people are in such a need of psychiatric help and there is NOTHING available for them.

Why a city, with so many resources, can spend so much money in creating new recycling centers, remodeling parks, etc and cannot spend money really providing the service needed for those who has mental issues and no self esteem?

Making homeless pick up after others with programs such as the Downtown Street Team is something that DOES NOT WORK for most people. They need to have a better self esteem, they need mental help, they need to be loved and not sent to work for just coupons.

Remember Mary Ann, who died in our streets after joining the Downtown Street Team program. She needed help and was not able to find it.

The food at the OC is horrible! Have any of you ever eaten there?

By the way, Victor Frost, if you are still out there, I would love to hear your opinion on shelters for Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 18, 2011 at 11:32 am

There are so many thoughtful comments here showing a range of perspectives & I've learned a lot from them. It demonstrates that there are many people who don't believe it's their job to look out for the vehicle dwellers - their lives are full & no one wants to be forced to deal w/them. And no matter what, the vehicle dwellers still have many complaints that seen unending, including a sense of entitlement, such as by WeNeedShelter. The expense and complexity of running a shelter isn't simple. Complaints about the food at OC - really? Why don't you understand that PA is just *one* city, & isn't responsible for your welfare? You can blame the changed laws decades ago, for starters. You're angry that PA citizens don't make you a priority, but you're not demonstrating, by the entitled comments in your post, why they should.

So I'm still left feeling bad for the regular PA citizens who are forced to put up w/the unsanitary aspects of the vehicle dwellers. It would really seem to more sanitary for the vehicle dwellers to be in one area, not parked on streets, where sanitary conditions can be monitored & issues addressed. For my sense of security, if I insisted on remaining in an area that I couldn't afford to rent or own a place & I decided to live in my car, I'd make sure it was sanitary, tidy & quiet, so as to be as inoffensible as possible.

I think I mentioned this before. I invited a woman living in a shelter into my home. We were coworkers. She drove me nuts in just one night, endangered my pets as well. The next day, while I was bringing her personal belongings to work, & turned on the car's AC, the smell of marijuana drifted over to me. She had a baggie of it hidden in her belongings. At that time, I was living paycheck to paycheck, working 2 jobs, while she had a bunch of $$ saved so she could rent a place, but she had enough to spend on drugs? THEN, I got pulled over by the police. Luckily, I wasn't ticketed or anything, but I was so terrified I was shaking. So I called a prosecutor friend & when I described how much dope was in the bag, I was told I could've been busted for intent to distribute. It's a good thing I didn't touch the bag, so it didn't have my fingerprints on it.

Guess what? Coworker of course lost her job right after because she was a total flake & I happily lost track of her. But talk about regretting reaching out to someone.

I have done a lot of donating to people in need through the years, both in personal time & in donations of money & goods. After that lack attempt at reaching out, I only donate money & goods now. I just love the irony that my tax dollars contributed to sheltering someone whose dope could've gotten me in big trouble. Is PA really ready to take on the vast complexities & expense of housing all of these people? I don't think so. So if they live in their vehicle, by choice or by circumstance, what's so hard about taking measures to ensure some sanitary, safer conditions?

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Posted by Phil
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 18, 2011 at 11:32 am

Not pretending at all WeNeedShelter, and Palo Alto contributes far more than just donating food during the holidays. You minimize the outreach work that is done here and quite frankly I take exception to that. Our city has a long standing track record of reaching out to those in need. More so than any other community in our region by a wide margin. We are host to the Opportunity Center, and prior to that, the Urban Ministry for many years. The many programs extended in Palo Alto also includes the Downtown Streets Team, Another Way Project, Downtown Food Closet, and the Hotel DeZink Program. Additionally, Palo Alto tax payers allocate a six figure annual contribution to help fund many of these programs. This does not include the many private donations that are made throughout the year. Again, I ask anyone to identify a community that rivals Palo Alto for its sense of humanity, tolerance, and generosity. So I respectfully disagree WeNeedShelter. I believe that Palo Alto already goes above and beyond any community standard, especially considering that the majority of those seeking assistance have few if any ties to this community.

As you pointed out, Palo Alto is indeed a great place to live. However, it is not a place that everyone can afford to live. That applies to everyone whether they are homeless or not. Like most Palo Altans, my family and I worked very hard and made many sacrifices along the way to afford to live here. No one is entitled to anything in life. All you get is an opportunity. What you do with that opportunity, and the subsequent choices you make in life will ultimately dictate the life you lead. Again, not everyone should expect to live in Palo Alto, and considering the homeless outreach work that is already done here, please do not expect society to just build you a shelter wherever you happen to want to live.

I also sense a lack of appreciation on your part for the many programs that are offered, including as you pointed out the Downtown Streets Team and the food at the Opportunity Center. Judging from my volunteer experience I would say that these options are more than adequate. I am really not sure exactly what you feel that you are entitled to or expect. I would be grateful for the overwhelming generosity and tolerance that Palo Alto extends to the homeless, and please realize that there needs to be some realistic limitations on what society is willing or capable of doing. I believe in giving people a hand, not a hand-out.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 18, 2011 at 11:45 am

Phil, your posts are right on. I was involved w/Urban Ministries in my youth. All the summer college jobs my sister & I had, we got folks involved w/Urban Ministries. As a local, I have continued to donate to food closets & my church are big supporters of PA programs. Living in EPA, I know of many housed people in need & I donate here & to PA programs. Can you imagine if locals decided to less generous how bad things could get then?

I live in EPA because I can afford it. My neighborhood has been filled on & off w/the offspring of PA, Atherton & MP residents who can only afford to live here, so they do. Many people sacrifice to live in this area, be they renters or home owners & the relevant difference between us & you in PA is that we have laws that prevent vehicle dwelling. For people to criticize PA for not helping enough is a perfect example of their sense of entitlement, disrespect & dismissal of origins of why they're living in PA now, either on the streets or in their cars.

Your comment about jugs of urine made me wonder: Why do they leave them out for everyone to see & be sickened by, instead of keeping them inside until they can dispose of them? To me, this is an example of the unsanitary conditions & just not caring about those they're squatting amongst.

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Posted by Phil
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 18, 2011 at 11:57 am

Well stated Hmmm, and I always appreciate your thoughtful take on the issues of the day. I would like to respond to your question, "What's so hard about taking measures to insure some safer, sanitary conditions."

First of all, considering the multitude of programs and funds that Palo Alto already provides, why should we be expected to sanction the added responsibility of a mobile shelter? Where would these shelters be placed, and at what cost? What impact would these shelters have on the surrounding neighborhood in terms of not only peace of mind, but property values as well? Many homeless people have commented that they avoid shelters because of some negative elements and danger. Why would we invite these potential problems into our community?

Lastly, the majority of the homeless being served in Palo Alto have few if any ties to our city. We must have some reasonable limits on what services we provide and not further our reputation as a magnet for those in need from throughout the Bay Area. As you stated, we are just one city. A city that already goes above and beyond any other community in our region in terms of helping those in need. I am afraid that our tolerance, generosity, and patience are being taken advantage of. It is time for other cities in our area to carry some of this burden.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 18, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Thank you, Phil. I agree that shelters can be dangerous places. I recall one I assisted with in SM County that had to take pretty serious security measures. Because I was working the project w/retired cops, I felt pretty safe, & otherwise, I wouldn't have helped out.

I think that's the point about not having a car park - it would have to be cleaned, monitored, policed - all very expensive - & it still wouldn't be enough for them. At this point, it seems that many of them want things their way, but can't afford it. It seems that many of the homeless want more services but not the oversight that comes w/those services. Just monitoring the sanitary & health conditions would be extremely expensive. So your city is back at square one, I'm sorry to say.

But many of the other local cities are also quite generous - they don't allow vehicle dwelling, however. Churches also do a lot & they often draw from several communities at the same time. Look at St. Anthony's food program, for example...but I'm getting off topic.

I guess the only things I can truly contribute to this conversation are this:

-For city leaders reading comments - please note - my spouse & I purposely avoid spending money where we have to deal w/the aggressive homeless & vehicle dwellers whenever possible.

-For the homeless & vehicle dwellers reading comments - in this horrible economy, you have to also be resourceful. Unless your values are totally eroded, having basic appreciation for the tolerance still operating in PA makes sense about now.

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Posted by WeNeedShelter
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 18, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Hummm, I usually like your posts, but today we disagree with you. I am not a homeless and I don't use the city services. I did, however, decided to do what most unhoused people in our community does - I went to OC and ate there to understand why so many people complain about it. I also have spend numerous hours just talking to people on our streets, trying to get to know them and some of those people are just wonderful people.

People have different opportunities in life and not everyone has the same chances. Not to mention discrimination and abuses. Some people will turn into drugs, other to alcohol and others will just go crazy. Like I said before, we need to provide mental health to our unhoused residents.

Some people are veterans who went to wars and lived terrible moments, some others had just a very difficult upbringing. Some spent their lives in foster homes or God knows where. NO ONE WANTS TO BE HOMELESS, that is for sure. People sometimes cannot find the strength to fight and to be productive on their own. These people need and deserve help.

A shelter may not be the best place for people, but with help from mental health professionals, it can be a safe place where people who had very little opportunities in life, or who suffers from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) or any other mental problem can try to turn their lives around.

We are in Palo Alto, one the the most well educated city in the world, and one of the most expensive city was well. But we are not a true generous city. We have some programs, but we can do much, much more. In the next years we will have an increase of homeless peoples (veterans from todays wars). We need to have a plan to help them out.

I know people here in PA who dedicate their time to help others, but I know many more who just pretend they are truly helping. And I know many many more who does not help, discriminates, and often say negative things to those in need.

We need to really care more for others. If we can afford, we should provide mental help for those who need and we should have a shelter!

Humm, I am sorry for your experience with your co-worker. But, please, remember that many people out there need to be helped and not everyone's life story is the same. There are many wonderful/kind/good people living in our streets and in cars. I know some of those people, and I wish people would take their time just to get to know them and learn about their stories.

Maybe Palo Alto Online should try to write an article telling some of these people's life stories. I know some unhoused residents may refuse to talk about their lives, but if you offer to change their names for the paper, they might be willing to share with you why they are homeless, how they feel about it and what are their true needs. You can start with Victor Frost.

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Posted by Parent II
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 18, 2011 at 3:19 pm

I am not a big fan or people living in their cars. But I have nothing against it either. I just think Palo Alto is a great place to live. Why can't our homeless population enjoy our city as well?

Here is why.......
They shouldn't enjoy our city by infringing on the safety of those of us who pay taxes. Do the vehicle owners pay a parcel tax? Who is paying to remove their garbage? Residents keep getting hit with ever increasing bills. When reasonable people can no longer afford to live here, they move.

Given the median home price, there is plenty of " affordable" housing. If you can't afford it, move to a place where you can.

My children will never be able to afford a house to live in the city they grew up in You can't justify living here illegally just because you used to live here. The responsible thing is to go where you can afford to live. My children will have to be content with coming to visit Palo Alto. That's just the way it is.

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Posted by Phil
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 18, 2011 at 4:30 pm

WeNeedShelter, my volunteer experience has taught me that there are indeed a percentage of very good, solid people who are down and out and could use some support and assistance. That same experience however has made it very clear that there is also a disproportionate number of people who because of bad life decisions they have made ended up on the street. There are many public services that tax payers fund to address issues, including those involving mental heath. It is also a fact that Palo Alto is abundantly generous when it pertains to homeless outreach. For you to suggest otherwise is not factual and irresponsible.

For the wonderful folks that we both agree are deserving of public support, Palo Alto already carries more than their share of outreach efforts and responsibility. We as a community have absolutely nothing to feel guilt about. You are a mere enabler that chooses not uplift the human spirit with higher expectations, self-reliance, and accountability. On these issues, I doubt we will ever be in agreement.

As for the condition of this country, I truly believe that despite our problems, obstacles, and even discrimination, it still provides everyone with more opportunities than obstacles.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2011 at 4:43 pm

We really do have to look at this from a compassionate point of view.

If we ban them, where will they go? If we don't ban them then they will come here from all over the Bay Area because they have nowhere else to go.

This should no longer be a city by city discussion. It should be a regional problem and the only way to solve it is at the State level. We need to find somewhere in the Bay Area where it will not interfere with neighborhoods and businesses that the vehicle dwellers can safely camp (because that is what it is) with hygiene facilities and space. We must be able to find some space somewhere in the region where the right facilities can exist, where some sort of registration is required and where it will be safe for them as well as safe for those of us fortunate enough to have homes to be able to live.

I am not advocating out of sight out of mind mentality. Just a realistic solution to a problem.

Otherwise, its damned if we do/damned if we don't. These poor souls have to go somewhere.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 18, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Okay, I had to report in, so to speak. Had to go run errands in downtown PA, errands that I normally do here in EPA or Menlo.

Parent II - don't forget us nonresidents who pay sales tax in PA & those SC County residents who pay county taxes & also sales tax in PA!

In 2 hours this afternoon, I was followed by 1 homeless guy wandering in a stupor in a parking lot & another hit on me in a very disgusting manner while smoking in front of Peet's. It was a reminder why my spouse & I prefer to conduct business elsewhere when we can. The ironic thing was that I received stellar customer service from *all* of the service people I dealt with, leaving me wondering what I'll remember in the long run about this afternoon. Care to guess? These were both men, leaving me concerned about my personal safety beyond the normal level of caution that I grew up w/having here in the 'burbs.

WeNeedShelter, you canNOT guilt people into helping more. How much do PA residents contribute to these various programs - do you know? Do you have *any* idea how resentful & disgusted I am right now?

As for the quality of homeless people, I know better than most what many of them are like because I've worked 1:1 w/a number of them - literally. I have another formerly homeless/car dweller I'm friends with. She's stayed straight for many years now & I don't regret the MANY hours & CHUNK of money I've given her. But in the back of my mind, I know this is someone who sacrificed her pets & the well-being of her oldest child for a long time, to get high. She also still lacks sound judgement, which makes me cautious in my dealings w/her. Ditto my other homeless/unhomeless/now homeless friend - he is a difficult person who chooses his anger over his personal relationships. I am NOT responsible for these people & their choices, nor is Palo Alto.

You suggest a story highlighting Victor Frost? Digusting & ridiculous. At least the 2 people I've mentioned above do contribute to others in a meaningful way.

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Posted by Hristo
a resident of another community
on Nov 18, 2011 at 9:28 pm

A sad situation all around. Unfortunately, in this economy, we are not going to run short of poor people anytime soon.

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Posted by huh?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Maybe we should all just sell our homes and buy an RV and park it somewhere in Palo Alto! Why pay property taxes? Why pay utilities? Especially helpful to seniors so we could stay here in beautiful Palo Alto and reduce our living expenses.

Looks like our City Council just sent out an invitation to all those who live in colder climes to come to warmer Palo Alto. Doesn't matter who, criminals, drug addicts, whatever. Anyone objects, they are going to be labeled elitist and selfish. What a racket!

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Posted by member
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2011 at 10:09 am

I grew up in Palo Alto, I now call it Shallow Alto, Most of the people who live in this city should move back to where they orignated from. This used to be a very compasssionate and open city.Now just a bunch of snobs and rude people. The homeless/jobless need help. While your building your McMansion with views of my backyard and 6 bedrooms that are empty,invite the homeless to stay with you. Yes see my point,NOT IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD!!!!!RIght

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

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