Our Town: A life 'for the birds' | August 15, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

Notes & Comments - August 15, 2007

Our Town: A life 'for the birds'

by Don Kazak

A homeless man, sounding defeated, says he has been looking for work but can't find a job. He's articulate and thoughtful.

A homeless woman is also expressive. But angry.

The woman complains that programs that are supposed to help homeless people aren't really doing so.

Middle-class people are willing to give a few bucks to panhandlers but "rich people have their noses way up there," she said.

The interviews are part of a film, "Homeless in the Community," which was shown recently by the Midpeninsula Community Media Center in Palo Alto., It will be shown again in September.

The 21-minute film includes interviews with Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss and two staff members at the Clara-Mateo Alliance shelter in Menlo Park.

The film seeks to go beyond stereotypes of homeless people and was an eye-opener for the young people who filmed it. The film was shot by 10 high school students, members of the Media Center's Youth Advisory Council.

The Media Center wanted to have a greater youth voice in its programming, Executive Director Annie Folger said.

The center's Youth Advisory Council was formed earlier this year for a four-month trial run. Twelve high school students applied and 10 were chosen. Staff member Danielle Fairbairn was hired to coordinate youth services.

"It's a great start," Barbara Noparstak, president of the Media Center's board of directors, said of the move.

The students give the Media Center's Board of Directors advice on how to better reach young people. And, as with the "Homeless in the Community" film, the students go out and shoot films.

"The films are student-driven," Fairbairn said. "They decide the content of their shows."

"We have to find a way to be relevant to the kids," Noparstak said of the formation of the youth group. The four-month pilot effort will become a full-blown effort for the next school year.

In the film, Kniss, who has a nursing and mental-health background, explains that the increase in the homeless population can be directly linked back to a decision more than 30 years ago to close many of California's state-run mental health hospitals, putting people on the street who were "not prepared to deal with life."

About a third of today's homeless people are children, Kniss said, but they are are largely unnoticed by the public. "The more visible ones are frightening to us," she added.

Karla Valenzuela, a Clara-Mateo Alliance social worker, said many homeless people have recently lost their jobs and their ability to pay rent.

"Homeless people are not just people pushing shopping carts or sleeping in the bushes," she said.

The students who made "Homeless in the Community" were surprised by how much homeless people they interviewed had to say about their situation.

"They all had different ideas and some of them had thought a lot about the issue," Emily Glider, who will be a sophomore at Gunn High School in the fall, said of her experience. It was interesting to find "how interesting they are. Otherwise you lump them together."

The students interviewed more than the two homeless persons who made it into the film.

"It was interesting to have an in-depth interview instead of walking by them," Alton Sun, a recent graduate of Palo Alto High School, said.

Sun was surprised to learn that some of those interviewed would rather live on the street than stay in a homeless shelter.

"They didn't want the rules or the drug testing," he said.

Mark Dreschke of San Carlos, who will be a senior this fall, said he had never gone up to a homeless person before and was apprehensive. The man he approached was willing to talk, though.

"We had a good interview," Dreschke said.

"Homelessness is for the birds," the man says, sadly, in the film.

Senior Staff Writer Don Kazak can be e-mailed at dkazak@paweekly.com. Applications for the Media Center's Youth Advisory Council are due Sept. 14 and are available at www.communitymediacenter.net.


Posted by Charlie, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 20, 2007 at 6:12 pm

i never got to really see the full video. but i helped shoot it!

Posted by w, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 20, 2007 at 7:40 pm

As I have previously said, we need minimum solution shelters somewhere so that folks down on their luck are not sleeping under bushes.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2007 at 8:51 pm

Caught you, Walter!!