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Aggressive Homeless

Original post made by Kate, Crescent Park, on Feb 28, 2007

Today, I and my thirteen pound Westie were attacked by a homeless man in downtown Palo Alto around 4:30 p.m. There was no provocation for the attack. He simply walked over to me, in front of Taxi's on University Avenue, refused to allow me to continue to walk down the street and then proceeded to viciously kick my small dog. I jumped between him and my dog and so he began kicking me. He didn't say a word. I called the police but they lost the record of my first call and so, by the time they responded, he was long gone.

I had a previous encounter with another homeless man about two weeks ago. My husband and I were eating at Andale and sitting at the outside tables in the front of the restaurant when a homeless man walked up to our table and started screaming at us using profanities that I will not grace these pages with. Suffice it to say that it was frightening.

I have witnessed some homeless men scream obnoxious and sexually explicit comments to young women who are simply downtown with friends to have some fun. It's horrible to watch and listen to.

Lastly, I have witnessed a homeless woman chase a man down the street in the evening, while his wife and kids watched.

What is going on? The downtown area has changed over the past year. There are more homeless people and some of those individuals are aggressive. I for one am tired of watching the antics of some of the homeless when all I want to do is simply take a stroll in the downtown area or patronize a downtown business. At a minimum, we need foot patrols by police on a regular basis. We also need the police to act when law abiding citizens are harrassed. It's a real free for all right now.

Comments (84)

Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2007 at 8:49 pm

I too have witnessed this behavior downtown. I know the store owners are tired of the homeless chasing business away. Maybe there are more homeless now that the new homeless shelter is open for "business"?

Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 28, 2007 at 10:07 pm

I agree Palo Alto has invited the homeless here. I don't see this kind of behavior in other local cities and towns (though I haven't been in S.F. for awhile...)

Threatening behavior like that recounted here will repell visitors to downtown - word gets around - so this is to the detriment of this city.

I experienced threatening harassment when out with my young daughter a few years ago -- luckily some employees of a business helped me out with getting the guy to back off after the guy actually followed me into the business, so my suggestion is to go right into a business if you are being harassed and the employees can tell the threatening individual in no uncertain terms to get lost or they will call police. The harassment I experienced was on California Avenue and I had a big guy blocking my way as I walked down the sidewalk, loudly demanding my attention. There was no way I was going to get into a conversation with this person, particularly when I was needing to protect a young child.

Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 28, 2007 at 10:32 pm

To Kate of Crescent Park.

May I suggest you go to the next City Council mtg. and at the beginning of the meeting when you have 3 minutes to talk on a non-agenda item, you go there and tell THEM what happened. It wlil be on Cable and a lot of people who don't read this site will know - including the City Council. It will be 'on the record'. And write it down too to
[email protected] If everyone who is scared or disgusted does this, just
maybe the City will listen. Otherwise, you/we are just "blowin' in the wind".

I won't go near downtown Palo Alto - University Avenue even in the daytime. And if I have to, I do not use a dangling purse. I use a fanny pack with a belt that has a steel insert like I use when traveling. Yes, the word will get around - it HAS gotten around, and some who work with the homeless say that Palo Alto has become a magnet. Wouldn't surprise me if San Francisco is giving out one-way bus tickets to Palo Alto.

Posted by kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 28, 2007 at 10:34 pm

To Kate of Crescent Park

Something was omitted from my response, Write your experience also to
[email protected] Get it in now for the mtg. next week.

Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 28, 2007 at 10:37 pm

Well for some reason,, this site will not accept an e-mail address. There is one for the
City council. I'll spell it out. city(period)councilatcityofpaloialto(period)org

Maybe the webmaster can tell us why an e-mail address is automatically omitted.

Posted by kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 28, 2007 at 10:39 pm

Well, that didn't work either. Maybe we are not supposed to e-mail the city council.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2007 at 6:44 am

Kate, did you call the police? You should have, and you should have also informed local merchants you wopuld no longer shop there while the problem persists.
Palo Alto, and most cities need a campground with sanitary facilities for the homeless so they can have a place to be directed to.

Posted by Frank Bravo
director of IT, Embarcadero Media and webmaster of Palo Alto Online
on Mar 1, 2007 at 8:49 am

Frank Bravo is a registered user.

The reason the e-mail address was not showing up was that it was included within 'less than' and 'greater than' brackets. I removed the brackets and now they are showing up.

We had a problem with posts including codes that made the site do weird things. The system now sees these brackets as including codes and does disable that information from the post.

Posted by In the know
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 1, 2007 at 9:01 am

During the day there only 5-7 officers actually assigned to patrol. Those officers have to respond to take reports all over town, "adopt-a-school", patrol the south end of town for the daytime burglars, respond to noise complaints, neighbor disputes, investigate cases that used to go to the detectives like child abuse because the child abuse detective position got cut, and try to catch crooks all over the city. Perhaps we as the public, need to stop having offices concentrate on trivial things like noise complaints or the neighbor that is annoying us and have them focus on more important things. The homeless are here because there are plenty of services for them here like the new Opportunity Center. It is attracting homeless from all over the area that normally would not be here. If we do call the short staffed officers in to downtown to catch the aggressive homeless, we need to be prepared to make a citizens arrest against the offender and assist law enforcement with what they need to prosecute these guys. Also, lets equip. our officers with the tools they may need such as tasers. Remember, the officers don't want to get in a wrestling match with these weirdos either, so lets give them our support and the right gear to do the job.

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 1, 2007 at 9:22 am

I totally disagree with the concept that threatening homeless people should be told to leave or you will call the police. Calling the police should be FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE, not a backup threat. I am sure the vast majority of us have cell phones, and dialing 911 is a fast thing to do. Don't swap threat and counter-threat with abusive and probably unstable people, call first, ask questions later. If things get worse you will want the police already on the way. Also, the police want to know when there is a problem, they want to track trends and patterns. Also keep in mind that if this person is a threat to you he/she is probably a threat to others too, and potential targets will be the smaller, weaker, older, and/or female part of our society, the ones most in need of protection.

I feel like Wyatt Earp going "We gotta clean up this town." But the weapon of choice today is the cell phone, not the six-shooter. The good news is that if you fire too fast with a cell phone, it can be taken back. So don't be afraid to quick-draw your phone if you have a problem, or if you see someone else having a problem. Don't wait for the situation to escalate to where violence is imminant or has already happened.

Posted by Kate
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 1, 2007 at 9:52 am

I did call the police twice before I was contacted by them about the matter and by then the homeless man that assaulted me was long gone from sight.

I will inform City Council about my experiences, but I don't expect them to do anything about this growing problem. I just don't think anyone wants to touch the increasingly aggressive homeless problem because they are afraid of a political backlash. It's really very sad because, by avoiding the elephant sitting in the middle of the room, they are allowing the obvious growth in the homeless population, with its' share of aggressive and dangerous individuals, to populate the downtown area without any oversight.

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 1, 2007 at 10:15 am

JustMe is a registered user.

At what point did you call the police the first time. I know that this would be a tough call to make at the time, but in retrospect I would say that you should have called as soon as the homeless person refused to let you continue walking, before he started kicking your dog. As soon as someone confronts you, before you even say "Good morning" or "Please let me pass", start dialing. As soon as it was apparent that this homeless person was looking for trouble the police should be called to help them find it. (It's the least you can do, right?)

I wonder how many people this person confronted before you. If one of them or an observer of one of those confrontations had called the police your dog would never have gotten kicked. And if you are on the phone to police while the guy is still there yelling at you, they will probably send an officer code-red.

Please for your own safety, and the safety of others, dial first, ask questions later. In your place, during this first confrontation, I probably would not have called right away either. Now, armed with this perspective, I will have an itchy dialing finger.

Posted by Kate
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 1, 2007 at 10:44 am

I didn't have my cell phone with me and so I ducked into a local business as soon as possible given the aggressive nature of the homeless man and did call the police from there. That first call was made within a few minutes of the attack. Fifteen minutes later I was still waiting for the police to arrive and so I started walking home. I called the police again from home and they didn't seem to be aware of the first call. I spoke with a male dispatcher the second time and a female the first. I don't know what else you can do when something like this happens. I know that I will never go downtown without a cell phone from now on.

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 1, 2007 at 10:50 am

Can I assume you called 911 at least the first time you called and not the local number?

Please carry your cell phone with you, with it you can protect yourself and those around you. If you see something similar to what you experiences happening across the street, you can immediately get involved without bringing attention to yourself simply by standing there and dialing. You may save a stranger. We need to look out for each other, right?

Posted by Tim
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 1, 2007 at 1:02 pm

I am another downtown resident who agrees the homeless population in our city is getting out of control.

The intersection of Bryant and University have basically become a homeless encampment during warm weather. When I try to get coffee with my wife we are always asked for money, and when we refuse, we become the subject of profanity-laced tirades. I know for a fact the city has places that serve 3 meals a day and hand out food, clothing, and blankets, so obviously the money the homeless are collecting is for less worthy causes. The "Opporunity Center" seems to only have brought more homeless into town as we are becoming a homeless mecca for the peninsula.

We need to: 1)Stop giving money to the homeless - it is being used for alcohol and drugs, 2)Pressure the City Council to pass municipal ordinances that will give the police more tools to deal with this growing problem, and 3)Support our police officers as they try to make Palo Alto a safe and clean community.

I try to be sensitive to the plight of fellow human beings, but I have limits. When I am called names, I see homeless urinating, defecating, and smoking marijuana downtown, I think the situation has escalating into a serious problem. I know I would not feel safe letting my young children walk downtown unsupervised in this environment.

I recently visited the downtown/Union Square area of San Francisco, a place I lived years ago. I was amazed to see the rejuvenation the area has gone through. Gone were the syringes, empty beer bottles, and homeless that used to overwhelm the area. Now the location was clean, well-kept, and full of citizens having a snack at a coffee shop. While I think we need to continue providing services to the less fortunate in our community, I think it's time to draw a line in the sand regarding the insane things the homeless are doing in downtown Palo Alto.

Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 1, 2007 at 2:38 pm

Do City Council members and city officials read these comments? If they do, they'd better listen up. Tempers are rising over the situation downtown and at times on California Avenue. You want people to shop downtown? Attract tourists? Forget it. Residents don't like to go downtown. Los Altos is lovely. Even Menlo Park is better, although it also has problems. City council members and city officials. ADDRESS THIS PROIBLEM NOW. If you don't do so aggressively and someone gets hurt, the financial consequences to the City will be substantial.

If they don't read the the remarks on Town Square, then we collectively will have to tell them and make them listen in person. Anyone willing to do that en masse? The super liberal bleeding heart mentality of Palo Alto is killing its reputation. And yes, the Opportunity Center is attracting more and more people from all over, and there are problems.

Posted by Johnny
a resident of University South
on Mar 1, 2007 at 3:27 pm

You go to Walgreens to pick up your medications there are homeless, to Taxi's homeless, to Starbucks homeless...ect. Why are they calling it University Avenue, they should call it HOMELESS AVENUE.
The city of Palo Alto is trying to be politically correct inviting the homeless, The homeless need pshychiatric care not can food and old bagels. Actually, we should not call them homeless, they should be called Psychos, They are in dire need of psychological help FIRST. The leftover food that they get is not going to help.
I stopped taking my kids to downtown since I was attacked but responded more viciously defending my children.
Some would say, they are homeless , we should be compassinate, these people did not have their children or even their dogs attacked for simply walking through downtown.
Kate: Thank you very much for bringing this up to this forum.

Posted by Danny
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 1, 2007 at 3:36 pm

This is all the more reason why everyone should learn self-defense. Drunken and sometimes psychotic transients should not make us afraid to walk the streets of our own city. It might seem a tad extreme, but these vagabonds will likely leave people alone if they have their noses broken by passers-by who will not tolerate their abusive behavior.

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 1, 2007 at 4:24 pm

I am afraid I TOTALLY disagree with using physical attacks on them. Just when you have them in a headlock you discover the hard way that they have a knife or gun. Or he turns out to be an ex-green beret. Or he is able to get the attention of an advocate lawyer who sues you for picking on the homeless. Even if you win, his lesson will be to make sure he has a weapon next time.

Your best defense is to prevent the confrontation from becomming physical in the first place. Your most potent weapon is your cell phone. At the very first sign of trouble, start dialing 911. Do NOT try to confront them, combat them, teach them a lesson, or anything like that. Let the police do it, please.

Posted by Common Sense
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 1, 2007 at 5:18 pm

Go ahead and call 911 but ONLY after you first try to get the heck away from the person - preferably go into a nearby business, or try to cross the street or walk in the opposite direction.

If you stand right in front of the person dialing away, he's going to look at that as a "threat" and escalate the situation quickly.

Try to get away FIRST, then dial afterwards especially since, as noted above, 911 still takes time for a response.

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 1, 2007 at 5:32 pm

If the guy understands what you are doing, yes, he might take it as a threat. But it is not an immediate threat, and he may realize that his best option is to beat feet and get out of there. There is certainly no reason why you couldn't be dialing while moving away, that would make the threat look even less immediate. If you swing on him, try to grab him, or pull a weapon, THAT he will interpret as an immediate threat.

The biggest problem I see with pullig a cell phone is that he may try to steal it. That's okay, let him have it, the police can track the calls.

Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 1, 2007 at 6:08 pm

Just Me,

"But it is not an immediate threat and..."

When considering how this hypothetical person will respond, remember a lot of the homeless are mentally ill and dont act rationally, so distance from the person before calling is good strategy.

Posted by Justme
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 1, 2007 at 6:18 pm

Well, I am not going to argue for the mental stability and predictability of homeless people. And I agree that creating a distance from them is a good idea. I guess the individual will have to decide when the good time to start dialing is, but I would encourage them to do it as soon as possible, keeping safety in mind.

I will also encourage everyone, if you see a confrontatin like that taking place, since you are out of the line of fire, dial as fast as you can. I would not get physically involved or even closer unless the victim looks to be in actual danger.

Personally, I am a big guy in good shape, and my size can be intimidating, even to the whacked-out. I would not hesitate to come to the aid of someone in physical danger, but I would not make my presence known to the homeless person unless I needed to. I'd be dialing like crazy though.

Posted by curious
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 1, 2007 at 8:00 pm

The aggressive behavior around downtown has been a problem for years, but each year when the city council creates it's priority list, its never makes that list. Instead we get "Climate change" as a "top priority".

The city council says "Shop Palo Alto", and that they want to encourage more retail; this doesn't help!

Until the council prioritizes this as a top priority, nothing will be done.

Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 1, 2007 at 8:18 pm

If possible don't make physical contact with them. Before East Palo Alto was incorporated it was patroled by San Mateo County sheriffs. I was talking to a deputy and asked him what was the hardest part of his job. He replied, "Trying to explain to my wife how I got crabs from handling prisoners." Eeewwwwwwwwwwwwww!!

Posted by Kate
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 1, 2007 at 8:37 pm

I just sent an email to all members of City Council and I urge everyone on this list to do the same. Complaints about the homeless problem need to be brought to the attention of City Council. Twenty or so emails would make an impression and is well worth your time and effort. Email: [email protected]

Posted by Merle
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 1, 2007 at 10:24 pm

What do you expect when you open the opportunity center to 300 bums, criminal and drug users. These scumbags come to PA from SF because of the money and services we give them. They take the train and bus and when the "OC" is full they live on our streets. IF the police stop them, we accuse the police of not being compassionate.

Just "don't feed the bears" when you are downtown. Most of them want money, not food. They buy vodka and crack and then chase us down the street like animals. A new police station should have been built instead of the "OC" but I guess no one thought that made common sense. You get what you pay for...

Posted by anon
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 2, 2007 at 5:22 am

I normally stay away from downtown Palo Alto. I go, instead, to downtown Los Altos for coffee and a leisurely weekend morning. Although small, it has a very nice atmosphere. And, I feel comfortable walking around with my 3 year old.

Posted by johnny
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 2, 2007 at 8:55 am

The city of Palo Alto should take some lessons from the city of Los Altos. I have never seen a homeless in Los Altos. Then again, you voted for a bad council, you get a bad council. We should stop hoping for miracles. This is not the movies. When I see their agenda, I get sick. The other day I saw in their agenda that they will celebrate someone's departure. I am all for celebrating who ever you want but do it on your own time. This council loves to see us bickering with each other and they can laugh on the sidelines. it relieves it from the pressure that it should get from the people that voted for them.
Kate suggested that we send the council an email, everyone should do it, not jut typing few phrases and think that you contributed. We know you have an opinion, we heard you, now finish your work and let the council know. Use your email, phone, text message if you wish but do it.
The only time, I go to downtown is when I drive by once every now and then. The psycos or as some would call them the mentally challenged took over.
For those who want you to call 911 while you child/dog is being attacked by a psycho, I think that's crazy. First save your child then call 911. You don't have to be a 300 pounder to save your child/dog. Look what is happening in Irak, they are killing our soldiers with cooking pots and dynamite not with with tanks. This is to say that you don't have to have the fittest/biggest body to defend your child, yourself, or your dog. I must confess that it does help in a situation when the the psycho can differentialte between big and small, male and female, dog and cat.
Thank you all!

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 2, 2007 at 9:16 am


I agree that if you are under physical attack, or a member of your party is under attack, defend first. In doing so you should make as much noise and commotion as you can to attract potential help from bystanders. Don't be shy, yell, scream, whack with anything you happen yo have, even your cell phone (which actually makes a pretty poor weapon,) kick, whatever. I swear, if I saw a woman trying to defend a child from a vagabon, I would be all over him as fast as I could be like ugly on an ape.

However, often times confrontations begin at a low level and escallate, often quickly. There may be a few moments between when you discover you have a problem and when you need to get physical, and if possible, the phone should be dialed as SOON as you feel threatened.

Another thought: I wonder about the wizdom of carrying a second wallet with a few expired credit cards, two ot three one-dollar bills, and some misc. paper simulating a genuine wallet would be a good idea. If someone asks you for your wallet, give this to him, then call police as fast as you can.

Posted by Gira
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 2, 2007 at 9:35 am

Where is our compassion for those with mental health problems? What is the solution- lock them up so we don't have to see them? I do think funding more foot patrols, with increased mental health services can help, but they aren't going away. Downtown PA has homeless issues due to the convergence of the transit hub, Opportunity Center services, and low-income housing. All key elements of addressing our social problems. I doubt Los Altos has much in the way of homeless services & housing. Staying away from Downtown PA just swings the balance towards the unstable. Positive events such as May Fete parade, & Festival of the Arts allow families to take back the streets.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2007 at 9:42 am

Another solution would be to boycott downtown. Many have said they never go there anyway. If the local restaurants and businesses (?) started suffering from lack of customers, then the business community would start putting on some real pressure to the powers that be. As it is, the businesses are struggling to deal with the homeless and their patrons. If they had no patrons then the businesses would eventually close. No one would want that, so boycotting downtown would be the best way to put pressure on the City Council to do something.

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 2, 2007 at 9:47 am

I am afraid that compassion for people with mental problems tends to evaporate when those people attack us. Helping them with their long-term mental illness, drug/alcohol addiction, or other mental issues kind of gets forgotten when they start kicking your dog or assaulting your children. When a homeless person is in-your-face refucing to let you walk down the street, we can admit he has a problem, but we personally have a more immediate problem.

I have compassion for the homeless and I wish I could solve their issues and make them whole. I am willing to make an attempt to do that. But while they are still ill, I feel the rest of us need to be protected from them.

Basically, yesy, we need to help them, but I will not accept that they should be allowed to victimize while we are making that attempt.

Posted by fortunate
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2007 at 9:52 am

I've walk around downtown most weekends with my young daughter for many years. Although there are many homeless, I have never witnessed or experienced anything like the above. I'm sure it does happen in the same way that I'm sure muggings and burglaries happen and I'm fortunate enough never to have experienced.

I'm just trying to say that this may be blowing things out of proportion. Yes, there are homeless people downtown. Yes, there are obnoxious belligerent people downtown. However all homeless people are not obnoxious and belligerent.

People who commit a crime should be dealt with in the same way whether they are homeless or not. Being homeless should not be a crime.

Posted by Johnny
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 3, 2007 at 6:56 am

Ok ok ok, I have an idea that may very well solve the problem. Stanford University claims that it helps the community, let's put Stanford to the challenge. This wonderful city council that we voted for can ask Stanford that their psychology department students do pro bono work.
Stanford can ask each student to help a homeless in downtown, just like the big brother big sister program. The city can match the student with the homeless and by doing this everyone wins. Stanford wins because it rise up to the challenge, the students win because they will feel good about themselves and they will gain experience, the city council will look smart and will feel good about themselves too and their family will be proud of them. The mentally challenged will feel care for and perhaps will look at life differently.
Stanford will will again because some donor who cares about metal issues will hand Stanford few hundreds of millions of dollars. Bill Gate and Warren buffet will definetely chip in few millions.
What do you think?

Posted by Kate
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2007 at 7:14 am

I think there should be drug testing before the students attempt to deal with the mental issues apparent in most of the homeless population. I don't think it's a bad idea, but you can't place students in harms way without first eliminating the drug and alcohol use problems that are oh-so-apparent in the homeless population here in Palo Alto.

Posted by Not going downtown soon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 3, 2007 at 7:26 am

Blah Blah Blah, if our goverment cared a lick, we'd not have the homeless running the downtown streets. Our government sucks, the homeless run University avenue. Blah, Blah Blah. That's why, as a lifelong resident, I take my $$$$ and lifestyle, elsewhere. We had a lovely downtown, university avenue, then we gave it away.

Posted by Eileen Richardson
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 3, 2007 at 10:38 am

HELP IS ON THE WAY! You all make good points about the unique issue Palo Alto faces with our homeless. The points can be argued back and forth about how it happened or why, is a growing problem or not and, of course, the point that being homeless is not a crime.

I make an effort here to outline the current efforts of our City Council, the Mayor, the City Manager, the Palo Alto Police Department, the City’s office of Community Services, the Palo Alto Downtown Business and Professional Association, our local non profits and the Downtown Streets Team (which I run).

The City will begin Restorative Policing spearheaded by the Chief of Police and Captain Dennis Burns along with support from City management, City Council and heavy involvement from the Community Services Division. The program reaches out to all local agencies, the DA’s office, judges, case workers, mental health providers, etc. in an effort to proactively get our homeless the help that they need. The program has been highly successful in San Rafael and this is the model we are using in Palo Alto. These efforts have been underway for some time and were outlined in an article in the Palo Alto Daily see: Web Link

The partnership between the Downtown Streets Team and the Palo Alto Downtown Business and Professional Association (PAD) is outreaching to the community in a roundtable series beginning in April. The Mayor and Police Captain Burns will be there to hear the community directly on this issue and discuss Restorative Policing and other efforts to curb loitering in our downtown. For more information on the event please email [email protected]

The City Council, City management, PAPD, local non profits, PAD and the Downtown Streets team are kicking off a campaign to educate the public to give “Care and NOT Cash” to our homeless. This effort will include tip jars in Downtown Palo Alto for donations to support the agencies that provide the critical services. and will be kicked off by an event where City Council members, City management, PAPD and business leaders are physically on the streets of downtown with tip jars to educate the public.

There are a lot of smart, hard working people on every level that are ready to make a difference in Palo Alto. BUT, we cannot do it alone and we cannot do it without funding. If you do speak with Council, please urge them not to take away critical HSRAP funding that supports these local programs that are on the verge of making a huge difference in our town. The Downtown Streets Team has proven that we can turn each $8000 given to the program and turn someone’s life around by turning them from panhandler to tax payer!!!! (A frequent user of our jails and hospitals can cost our community up to 150,000 a year as a comparison). We’ve done it with George who used to sit in front of Whole Foods in a wheel chair and now runs the kitchen at the Opportunity Center. You can see his picture and read a little about him in last Wednesday’s Weekly article: Web Link

Keep your comments and ideas coming and you can always email me directly at [email protected] For more information on the Downtown Streets Team you can go to

Posted by JP Vistor to Palo Alto
a resident of another community
on Mar 3, 2007 at 11:05 am

Who wants to be harassed every few feet? I sure don't !

As someone who used to drive up to Palo Alto from Santa Clara to dine,shop and stroll around your lovely town - I don't do it anymore. The merchants are tired and frieghtened as are the customers. Univerity Avenue as become a homeless obstacle course.

Palo Alto needs to learn what San Francisco and Seattle have regarding resident homeless populations. They also have the large numbers of unsympathetic homeless" people who beg, drink, urinate and vomit in public and they are probably the most difficult to get off the streets. These are the people who are often most aggressive.

Since Palo Alto doesn't seem to address this problem , every year over the past decade this issue has continued to grow.

Now I have pleasant dinners in other towns where I am not bothered or feel the need to call the police while I shop or dine.

It's time to act Palo Alto before your shopping streets disappear and you'll have a ever dimishing tax base to pay for your services.

Posted by joyce
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2007 at 11:26 am

Kate, how is your dog?

Posted by Kate
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2007 at 1:19 pm

She's OK, Joyce. Thanks for asking. I just took her for a short walk, with my cell phone handy, and I didn't see one homeless person on the streets. It's as if they have been moved to another city. Usually on a pleasant Saturday afternoon, there are at least 20 on University Avenue with five or six on the bench in front of Walgreens, another five or six across the street from that bench, a few in front of Starbucks, five or six in the Pizza My Heart plaza, etc. I don't know what's going on? Maybe the word is out on the street that people are getting upset and may really insist that Palo Alto do something about it this time.

Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2007 at 6:49 pm

I go to dinner from my office almost every night on University. I see homeless people sitting around, sometimes begging. I have almost never seen the kind of aggressive behavior described here. So this string is giving an absurdly exaggerated picture of the actual problem. That being said, anyone who gives money to a beggar is an idiot. I wish I had the courage to confront the fools that I observe doing this. They are the one who should be confrinted, not the rare wackos described above.

Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 3, 2007 at 6:59 pm


Ive had 2 female family members have encounters downtown.

1 person took a swing at my wife as she passed. The woman had such a hard time balancing, she barely connected. The homeless woman had clear mental issues. She walked off yelling "Stop hitting me stop hitting me". No one was close to her.

I had a teenager shopping for Christmas gifts downtown get intimidated for $5. He would not let her pass or retreat, he kept positioning his body so she could not go anywhere. She eventually gave him $5 and he walked off.

Posted by Palo Alto resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 3, 2007 at 10:59 pm

The homeless prevalence in downtown Palo Alto is exactly why I don't patronize the businesses there even if some of the restaurants and stores do have something attractive to offer. I just hope the homeless problem doesn't migrate to California Avenue or the midtown business district.

Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 4, 2007 at 8:20 am

Do what you need to do, we still go downtown. Our encounters were annoyances that ruined a moment, not a life.

Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 4, 2007 at 8:23 am

I forget to mention I am in this area for lunch every day as well. Also on weekends. You can give me all the anecdotal evidence you want, but can assure the general population of readers that the tone of this string grossly exaggerates the problem. Anyone who changes his or her behavior, such as not patronizing University Ave. stores, based on this anecdotal evidence is doing themselves and the city a disservice.

Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 4, 2007 at 8:35 am


Isn't this anecdotal evidence?

"I go to dinner from my office almost every night on University..."

My point was merely to give you examples that contradict your experiences. There is a problem, but I agree with you that avoiding downtown is not the solution. Ignoring it is not either.

Posted by curious
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 4, 2007 at 9:50 am

Howard writes that he never experienced some of the situations expressed in this topic...

Just because one doesn't have direct experience, does not invalidate another's experience - be it car break-ins, house robberies, racism, etc. or in this case aggressive, intrusive behavior by some (not all) homeless. It may not happen on every visit that one has to downtown, but even if it happens even once out of every ten or twenty visits, that frequency is enough to create issues.

I live near downtown, frequently walk, and there are several areas that are frequently (but not always) problems: Bryant/University near the Wells Fargo offices (brick building), Bryant/University in front of Starbucks, Bryant/University in front of Walgreens, Lytton Plaza.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 4, 2007 at 10:54 am

Whereas the above postings may not stop people frequenting downtown who already do frequent the area, it is more likely to deter those who may choose to do so in the future. I rarely, if ever, go downtown, usually for reasons not of my own choosing, but from what I hear,when making my own choice as to where to go out to eat or shop, I would choose elsewhere.

Posted by Kate
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 4, 2007 at 5:23 pm

I just wanted to let everyone know that there is a Palo Alto City Council Meeting tomorrow, March 5, 2007 at 6:00 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall on Hamilton Avenue. I am going to attend and speak for a minute about my experiences to date with some members of the homeless population. Anyone else who thinks the time has come to address this issue in earnest should also attend and plan on speaking. You only need to say a line or two about your view and/or experiences with the homeless population. It's a way to educate City Council on this subject with facts supplied by residents of Palo Alto.

Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 4, 2007 at 7:37 pm

Dupulicate post. Kate, Crescent Park, check the time of that City Council mtg. Usually the regular mtg. starts at 7:00 p.m. so there may be a some study session or special mtg. before the regular mtg. Call the City Clerk's office tomorrw and ask when a resident can speak to a non-agenda item.

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 4, 2007 at 8:11 pm

I have a dumb question? It seems to me that the reason for helping the homeless is to help them get back on their feet again and make a fresh start, right? Why are we bringing them to one of the toughest cities to live in with rediculous housing prices to get a restart? Aren't there better places where enrty-level is a lottle easier to achieve? I mean, sheesh, police, firemen, even doctors can't afford to live here, what makes us thing homeless people can make a go of it here? It seems like we are setting them up for failure. I can only think of two reasons to bring them here:
1) It makes us feel good to think we are helping, even if we aren't, and
2) For those who want to make a go through theft, the pickings are pretty good here.

Other than that, why would they want to try to restart here?

a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 4, 2007 at 9:28 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 4, 2007 at 10:02 pm


First, stop yelling. We don't need to be yelled at.

Second, Please drop the profanity, it does not belong here and does not help you make your case.

Thirdly, not every homeless person is a drugged-out criminal. Remember that after Kartina there were a lot of people who had lost everything they had who came out here to restart. These were, for the most part, good, honest, working people, and all they needed was a little help. There are lots of other reasons for being homeless and in legitamate need of help. When I came to this area 30 years ago I was poor, uneducated, unskilled, and in need of help. I got it from y parents, bless their souls. Not a lot of help, just enough to find a low-end first job and an apartment. That's all many of these people need. The trouble I have is bringing them here to find an apartment. At these prices? Sheesh, that's not fair to them.

For the aggressive drug users, yes, they need to be dealt with separately. They will also prey on their fellow homeless, given the chance. But please don't lump all homeless together and flush them.

Posted by Albert
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 5, 2007 at 7:11 am

The aggressive homeless people in downtime are mentally sick. Calling the police after an incident of aggressive behvior will not deter them from doing it again. Nor will jail time. Some homeless people are aggressive, some are not. No one likes to be attacked by a mentally deranged person, it's anawful experience. The issue is:they shouldn't be roaming the streets, they should be in a mental health facility. We as a society decided that we didn't want to spend the resources needed to take care of those who are unable to take care of themselves. We would rathet spend a trillion dollars on the war in Iraq than a few billions on housing the mentally ill and now we are facing the consequences.

Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 5, 2007 at 7:45 am

The war in Iraq has nothing to do with the homeless problem!! That is a state and local issue, not a federal one. The Federal Constitution says that anything not specificlally delegated to the Federal government is the problem of the states......which makes me think that alot of Federal legislation isn't legal either. Another problem - documented - is that homeless are coming to the Bay Area because it is easier to panhandle - it's warmer!! New York City has certainly cleaned up the city from aggressive panhandlers. Riding the subways and walking there used to be hazardous duty.

PS There are a lot of study sessions tonight at the City Council meeting. So the regular mtg.
may not start until 7i:00. Kate Crescent Park, let us know.

Posted by Kate
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2007 at 8:59 am

The City Council meeting tonight, 3/5/07, does indeed begin at 7:00 p.m. They will take cards for speakers at that time and cannot provide any further information as to when exactly oral comments will be taken from residents. I am told it is usually after a few easy agenda items are handled.

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 5, 2007 at 9:24 am

Remember that a society is judged by how it takes care of its weakest and most vulnerable members. The homeless, aggressive and not, fall into this catagory. But they need to be treated differently, according to their needs and the problems they pose to other members of society.

Please give the idea of calling 911 on the problematic people a try. Maybe nothing will happen the first time the police are called, or the second, but after a while they will decide that some people are frequent problems and another approach is required. The police can do nothing if we don't let them try. Call them, work with them, don't condem them before they have even had their chance to help. If we call many times and nothing happens, then I think we will have somehting else to discuss in the meetings. But we MUST give the police a chance.

Posted by Jake
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 5, 2007 at 10:37 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2007 at 4:52 am

The primary public interest in the homeless is to keep them alive and stop them from spreading diseases. Any "or else" redemption scheme will have an irreducable number of failures. I don't want those failures sleeping in dumpsters.

Posted by Laura
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2007 at 5:20 am

We gave up on downtown Palo Alto about 10 years ago. We stroll downtown Los Altos (very safe) and frequent its restaurants. If Palo Alto won't do anything to support its businesses and make the environment safe, why should we go downtown? The streets and sidewalks are filthy anyway and the atmosphere is no longer inviting.

Posted by Albert
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 6, 2007 at 8:00 am

NYC didn't its eliminate the homeless problem. The homeless there have been pushed by police brutality to areas where the tourists don't go. They just pest locals instead of tourists now. If we make them extremely unwelcome in palo Alto, they'll go to another town. They will not just disappear. Sweeping them farther away from us like a pile of garbage may allow us to pretend there isn't a problem anymore, but then the next town will be stuck with the same problem. The states can't solve this problem without federal help. These people belong in mental health instututions. Federal help isn't forthcoming because the federal government has bankrupted and defunded itself with a trillion dollar war and massive tax cuts for those who don't need them. Actually Kate, the homeless problem has everything to do with the Iraq war.

Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 6, 2007 at 9:14 am

Sorry, Albert. Let's not mix this up. Local problems of homelessness, mental illness, drugs, and alcohol have absolutely nothing to do with the Iraq war. Please explain what you mean.
We can blame a lot of things on it, but not pesonal responsibility or these social problems.

Posted by Kate
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2007 at 9:22 am

The homeless problem in the U.S. started a long time before the Iraq war. San Francisco is a good example.

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 6, 2007 at 10:06 am

I think his point is that if we were not spending so much on the Iraq war we would have more money to help the homeless. That may be true, but there are lots of other good places in the budget where we could save money for the homeless, and there are lots of other places where we could waste the money we saved. I think it is stretching things a bit to make any claim that the homeless situation could have been solved if we had not gone into Iraq, or even that we WOULD have used that money to solve the homeless situation.

There will always be homeless. We need to save the ones we can, deal in some way with the ones we can't save, and be aware that there will be a never-ending supply.

Posted by Geoff
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 6, 2007 at 11:15 am

The Iraq war is a total disaster, and has had myriad bad effects throughout American society, but the aggressive violent conduct of mentally unstable people on University Avenue in Palo Alto isn't one of them.

Those of you who want to bash George Bush (something he richly deserves) should head over to DailyKos or MyDD where you'll have plenty of cheerleaders to support you. But if we sit around here blaming George Bush for the problems we have here locally, we'll never get anything done to solve them.

And we clearly have a local problem here in Palo Alto, at least some of which is self-inflicted. The fears of the critics that the "Opportunity Center" would become a magnet for societal misfits clearly have been realized. What once was a problem that we could manage, now is spiraling out of control as we experience San Francisco levels of unhoused people wandering the streets.

One can have sympathy for these unfortunates without thinking that Palo Alto - alone among Peninsula cities has to solve all the problems. And yet, that is what we are doing. As commenters on this thread have pointed out, Los Altos, Sunnyvale, and San Mateo don't have this problem.

It's time to figure out a way for other cities to share the burden.

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 6, 2007 at 11:41 am

I will contend that the shelter should not be in Palo Alto at all. There are not many places in the US where it is harder to get a start or restart in life than Palo Alto, with our very high cost of living. We would be much fairer to them to locate them in a place with a more reasonable cost of living to go along with employment opprotunities and fair houseing prices. I would encourage all bay area cities to help fund a string of centers in better locations to help the homeless.

But for the aggressive and violent, the ones who simply want to plunder the people around them and not lift a finger to help themselves, I would encourage arrest, drug testing, and dealing with them on an individual basis from there. I have seen 6 months in county jail with the enforced drying-out period and time to reflect actually work wonders bringing someone back from the brink. I consider that to actually be part of a viable treatment plan.

Posted by Geoff
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 6, 2007 at 1:44 pm

JustMe is correct. Most of the denizens of the Opportunity Center, and the associated mentally ill and sociopathic homeless in the surrounding community (and University Avenue) probably are not capable of living on their own in any place. They can't exist in a civilized way without heavy intervention. But the few that are really "down on their luck" as opposed to mentally unstable have very little hope of finding long-term stability in a place as expensive as Palo Alto. We do them no favors by coddling them here as living sops to our liberal guilt-ridden sensibilities.

Those capable of self support would be much better off in a place with lower cost of living. But we attract them here to the "Opportunity" center - thereby foreclosing any really "opportunity" for long term stability for most of them.

For the majority whose drug or mental problems make them unable to live productive or happy lives, what favor do we do them by attracting them here so they can hassle and terrorize the rest of us? Must Palo Alto take ALL of the burden of caring for these unfortunates?

Posted by Kate
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2007 at 2:49 pm

After reading the article in the Daily News about Restorative Policing and learning that we are planning on modeling our approach to our increased homeless situation on San Rafael, I took a chance and called the police department there. The officer that answered the phone told me that, “Most of the homeless are refusing any substance abuse help. They are drawn to the City through food, shower and mailbox services”. The officer then went on to say that “ most live up in the hills and panhandle during the day in downtown San Rafael.” Also, the city has had to impose guardianships on some of the repeat offenders in the homeless community.

A worker at Sees Candy in downtown San Rafael said that there are serious incidents with the homeless. The most recent was last Thursday when a homeless man came into the downtown Sees store and threw a large rock into the case protecting the candy. She said not all of the homeless are troublemakers, but there are many that you shouldn’t make eye contact with.

Doesn't sound like restorative policing works very well there.

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 6, 2007 at 3:04 pm

I think that guy with the rock needs a time-out.

Let us be very careful, though, not to allow ourselves to lump all homeless into one bunch and treat them as a homogenious group. They are not. There are some that legitamately need and deserve our help. We should not withold it due to the actions of the dog-kickers and rock-hurlers. Even those who need our help have different needs. Some may belong in Palo Alto due to a need for proximity to Stanford for treatments. Some would be better off in another location where they could get back on their feet more easily.

All need to be treated with at LEAST as much respect as they display to us. But let's give "restorative policing" a flush. Consider that some of those in need of the services may be afraid to get those services because they are as afraid of the dog-kickers as we are.

Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 1, 2007 at 2:14 am

It used to be that your DOG was your best, what has this world come to?????????????????? To bad that guy got away without being bit in the rear end......................

Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 1, 2007 at 2:15 am

It used to be that your DOG was your best, what has this world come to?????????????????? To bad that guy got away without being bit in the rear end......................

Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 1, 2007 at 2:33 am

Oh, and yes,Palo Alto downtown could use "flatfoots"..that (for those of you unfamiliar with that phrase) was a policeman who actually WALKED his beat and verbalizes with the public...I remember "Sargent Sunshine" from the Haight Ashbury district in San Francisco who made a huge difference in the 1960's. Possibly that approach would work again...Chief of Police, are you reading these messages????????????????????????????!

Posted by Kate
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 8, 2007 at 4:32 pm

The Palo Alto Chief of Police is a strong supporter of restorative policing. To impose this style of policing in Palo Alto would be a disaster. If the police department is reading these posts, I want to encourage you to uphold the law, walk the beat in the downtown area and view first hand the deplorable conditions that exists there at times because of a vibrant homeless population...thanks Opportunity Center...that is not drug tested and receives services nonetheless...thanks again Opportunity Center. The benches are coveted by the homeless who set up shop, some aggressively panhandling, and others too drugged out to care one way or the other. Do you, Chief of Police, not see the same thing occurring in Palo Alto's downtown area? It's pretty hard to miss if you use the downtown at all. I do see some homeless advocates frantically trying to move them off of the benches in the morning. I think the advocates are beginning to realize that many in Palo Alto do not want the downtown area overrun by the homeless and that we as residents are beginning to realize the extent of growth in the homeless population due in large part to the Opportunity Center and other subsidized hotels in downtown Palo Alto.

Posted by Diana
a resident of another community
on Jun 22, 2007 at 8:18 pm

I live in the rural mountains and still could not get away from a mentally challenged, who was known by the apartment manager, and even the polict to actively and blatantly spy on neighbors with cameras and otherh surveillance equipment. Nobody in law enforcement seemed to even give a rat's ass if this guy raped or murdered anyone, as most of the objects of his obessessions were women. I don't even report these types of people anymore. It doesn't work. They are allowed to do what they want as if we are expected to feel sorry for them at all costs, even at the cost to lives. I'm even beginnning to perceive people so severely handicapped this way as not even human anymore. They are aggressive like animals, have no sense of right/wrong, no sense of respect, and attack at any perceied slight like a wild wolf would.

Posted by diana
a resident of another community
on Jun 22, 2007 at 8:21 pm

Oh, and restoritive policing is a pipe dream and counterproductive. These people need to be either put down, or locked up before they rape, murder, or even commit a terrorist attack or mass murder. That's how seriuos it is, but law enforcement continues to demand the communities watch on and put up with anything, even at the cost of lives and what's left of the sane society out there's sanity.

Posted by Marge
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 22, 2007 at 8:23 pm

I tried to flag down a cop to stop an acting out man who thought some woman was bitch for not smiling at him, and the cop just looked the other way and didn't give a rat's ass as the man continued to act like an ape in a bookstore. Desperate man, and so desperate, that he was walking around trying to get the attentions of this woman who didn't even want to talk to him, and he was all falling apart all over the bookstore. It was a sick sight to watch---a desperate, out of control, hard up, ugly, dirty, fat, and insane man acting this way.

Posted by Manny
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 22, 2007 at 8:27 pm

Hah. Maybe we are all suppose to go insane to equalize the social ladders. Everyone will be walking around, rabid and like zombies off Day of the Dead, except call it the Day of the Insane.

Posted by john
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 22, 2007 at 8:34 pm

What good does any DA's office or law enforcement do when they feel guilty and cannot get up the back bone to remove this severely mentally challenged population off the mainstream streets, by placing them back into mental institutions--and locking the doors so they can't get back out and attack, harass, and even murder another normal person on the road. These mentally challenged are jealous of normal people, so they try to attack them. They think everyone is responsible for them, but truthfully, very few people even give a shit about them. Everyone needs to face reality.If I was running around on the street, deranged, and looking for my next victim to attack for no reason whatsoever, I would turn myself in.

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 23, 2007 at 11:33 pm

People, can we please dispense with the profaniy, total lack of compassion, and the over-extended generalities? I don't know why it was so difficult to get police attention on the acting-out example above, but I strongly suspect that there is more to that story.

People who are homeless are that way for as many reasons, probably about one unique story per person. Some of the stories I am sure would tear your heart out, others would leave you just shaking your head. I am also sure that among those homeless people there are some good and kind souls who truly need and deserve help. You can't view them all as the same as the aggressive panhandlers. I spoke with a geneleman yesterday who looked like he was homeless, yet he is not. He has actually been harrassed for panhandling when he was just trying to go into a store to buy something. Be careful of the assumptions you make about people.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jun 27, 2007 at 12:01 am

well, watch your denial JustMe. We can't help but to notice how much completely insane people harass us on the street. Yeah, some homeless are nice people, but too many of them should be locked up before they kill someone. Denial never solves any problems, it just allows the problem to continue.

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 27, 2007 at 9:19 am

Who is in denial? Me for thinking that some homeless people might be good folks or you for being so anti-homeless and neagative? I mean, yeah, the quickest solution to the threat posed to us housed folks by the homeless would be to make homelessness a crime and lock them all up, but I hardly think that would be the correct thing to do.

The homeless need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The ways that you and I can help society deal with them are simple:
1) Be polite to everyone, homeless or not.
2) Report anti-social behavior by anyone to the police, let them make a record of it so that they can track trends.
3) Never give cash to a panhandler, give to the homeless shelters and buy them a meal if needed, but never give cash.
4) Refer again to #1.

Society has ways of helping people and dealing with threats, assist and allow those mechanisms to work.

Posted by Atrebla
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 10, 2011 at 12:01 pm

It could happen to you.

And never be so hubristic to think that YOUR WEALTH has nothing to do with THEIR POVERTY. They are intimately related.

Shame on you all.

Web Link

Posted by ummm...
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 11, 2011 at 5:42 am

My "wealth" pays for the services homeless get in taxes and charity. So, yes, my 'wealth' is intimately related. Without wealth, there are no services, either by taxes or by donations. Or..we could all be poor, then who is left to pay taxes and donate?

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