The Opportunity Center, which includes two drop-in centers, was a collaboration of the Community Working Group, the City of Palo Alto and the community in general that dug deep to fund it.
But that may have been the easy part.
Another collaborative effort is going to start next month to try to end panhandling on Palo Alto streets. The effort will include reaching out to those who panhandle to try to get them the services they need to get off the street.
It's an ambitious effort that will take cooperation from police, the courts, the district attorney and social service agencies.
About 75 downtown business owners and others attended an April 10 forum to talk about the presence of homeless people on downtown streets. The business owners don't like them sitting in doorways and sometimes bothering shoppers with what Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto calls aggressive panhandling.
"People wouldn't panhandle if it wasn't rewarding," she said.
Richardson, who coordinates the work of a dozen formerly un-housed persons on the streets team, doesn't like panhandling for another reason.
"Giving to homeless people is killing them," she said. "We lost three over the holidays to alcohol-related complications."
She predicted some will resist the effort.
"But I truly believe that help is out there and anyone who wants it can get it," said Richardson, who has directed the streets team since it formed two years ago.
"We have to cut off the revenue stream to panhandlers," Richardson said.
The kick-off for the effort will be Saturday, June 9, in an event co-sponsored by the Downtown Streets Team and the Business Improvement District, the formation of which three years ago led to the creation of the streets team. Part of Bryant Street near University Avenue will be closed to traffic. A group of shop owners, Boutiques on Bryant, will offer a fashion show with music and dancers.
City officials may sit next to panhandlers on University Avenue, trying to dissuade people from giving them money, Richardson said. The mayor or city manager sitting in front of Walgreen's? It could happen.
The effort to end panhandling will involve police in a program called "restorative policing," patterned on a program begun by the San Rafael Police Department in 1999.
"We use law enforcement to help restore people back to the community," said San Rafael Officer Joel Fay, who is also a psychologist. "We use arrests as an opportunity for change. We can't fix these people but we can get them in touch with people who can help. We focus on the people who are the cause for calls for service."
Instead of going to jail or being put on probation for violating a law, a street person will be asked, "Do you want to do something different?" That means the police are in close touch with mental health programs and detox programs for substance and alcohol abusers, he said.
And it works.
"We have gotten them off the streets," Fay said of chronically mentally ill homeless persons who used to get drunk in downtown San Rafael.
But it takes a lot of work. The San Rafael police have two officers assigned full time to the effort, along with a full-time Marin County sheriff's deputy.
Palo Alto Police Capt. Dennis Burns envisions a similar effort.
"We're trying to identify the problematic panhandlers," he said. It will take "high-intensity case management" to work, he added.
Who's going to do the case management? Eileen Richardson smiled and raised her hand, also mentioning two others who work for social service agencies.
"We honestly know everyone in town, 175 homeless people," she said.
This story contains 647 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.