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Guest Opinion: Lending hope to those who have lost theirs

Original post made on May 28, 2008

Attending Mary Ann Morgan's funeral in April got me thinking that, for all our contentiousness, we in Palo Alto do some things right — things that matter.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, May 28, 2008, 12:00 AM

Comments (15)

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Posted by William Croft
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 28, 2008 at 10:08 pm

... "We all have dreams, it's just that some of us no longer can bear to hope. I could help so many because I have hope to spare, hope to lend until they've rediscovered their own." ...

Inspiring article, thank you! I had not seen the Awakenings movie, but just read the description of it here: Web Link .

I understand your reference now. In some sense you could say that we are ALL living at less than our full potential, until we awaken to a truer reality that allows our dreams to blossom. May we help each other in this way by telling our dreams and listening from the heart.

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on May 29, 2008 at 9:07 am

I have often written on these pages of the need for a facility where even those not disposed to cooperate with rehab might find shelter from the elements. Call them caravanseries, flop houses or whatever, give even the unloved a place to bide a while.

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Posted by Susan
a resident of Midtown
on May 29, 2008 at 3:48 pm

"Mary Ann was one of Palo Alto's "unhoused" residents. The term unhoused is meant to convey the sense that a resident belongs here, that Palo Alto is home (even if the resident has no house) in a way that the term homelessness does not. "


If one does not have the means to live here, housed through their own means, then that person is NOT a resident here. This pluck-the-heatstrings stuff is exactly what is ruining Downtown.

Walter Wallis has the right idea, a camp for the homeless and bums. The most logical site for it, in Palo Alto, is Byxbee Park (the old dump site).

We need to clean up Downtown. The people who insist on insisting that we we owe the homeless and bums a place in Dowtown, are responsible for the current deplorable situaion. That includes the churches, which have contributed to this economic and esthetic decay. Are churches and other do-gooders resposnbile for the damage they cause, and susceptible to civil lawsuits?

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Posted by Chana
a resident of Midtown
on May 29, 2008 at 10:07 pm

Almost all of my former clients had lived in Palo Alto for considerably longer than I -- or most of my neighbors -- have.

3 were born here, and graduated from Paly and Cubberley (which used to be a high school.) Others returned to the area from Vietnam and never really re-entered society, or lost jobs nearby, or developed mental health problems with no family support. The do-gooders didn't bring them here. Whether we "owe anyone a place" or not, the homeless are here -- and everywhere. Due to constitutional protections, civil liberty -- and moral -- concerns, we are not legally allowed to drive people out of town -- them, or you. Economic decay causes homelessness, not the other way around.

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Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on May 30, 2008 at 4:50 am

Thank you for your service, Chana. It is easy to be nice to nice people who follow the rules, but public health and decency requires that some provisions be made even for those who will not or can not be nice. A priest once told me that anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly. If we set the standards too high for facilities we lose sight of the need. It is nice when everyone has a 4-poster bed, but sometime just a dry spot is needed.

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Posted by Kerry
a resident of Midtown
on May 30, 2008 at 10:34 am

Rudy Giuliani cleaned up the streets of New York, by insisting that the homelss and bums take a room provided for them. What consitutional provision prevents this?

You are playing out your own version of emotional theatre, using Downtown as your stage. It is not, and we should make it abundantly clear to you that we don't appreciate the effects of your efforts, well-intentioned or not.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2008 at 10:41 am

Some homeless are homeless due to hard times, and given a chance will be able to get on their feet again.

Some are really in need of mental help and there should be institutions for them and they should be made to stay there.

Others are homeless by choice and quite enjoy it. Someone like Frost should be held accountable for the mess he is in, even if he does not think of it as a mess. For those who opt out, society should not be responsible for them. Back in the hippy days, these people were called dropouts and since these people have chosen to drop out of society, why should society have pity on them?

Yes, lets help those who really need and want help. But, for those who are just parasites, we want to get them gone.

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Posted by Chana
a resident of Midtown
on May 30, 2008 at 11:15 am

Mr. Wallis, I'm pretty much with you on that. There are quite a few difficulties to getting back on one's feet when one doesn't have living quarters. For instance, it is hard to get a job without regular access to hygiene facilities. And it is difficult to obtain mental health care when there is no way to contact you.

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Posted by Chana
a resident of Midtown
on May 30, 2008 at 11:16 am

Kerry, while I'm not sure what you mean by my "playing out (my) own version of emotional theater" it certainly is colorful phrasing! I appreciate, as well, your useage of the "Queen's we" in declaring that "we should make it abundantly clear to you that we don't appreciate the effects of your efforts."

The "effects of my efforts", as stated in the article, were to keep people who were formally living on the streets stabilized in housing, and to get them jobs, etc. I'm not sure why you would object to this but of course it is your clear right to object to anything you wish.

You had a good point about Guiliani. He provided those living on the streets with housing. Are you suggesting that "we" do the same? Bravo.

If your point was that we should be able to force people to move indoors, I'm fairly sure that there are constitutional provisions that prevent this. However, of all the people I've met on the street, it was an extremely rare few who would reject a roof over their heads, if offered.

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Posted by Susan
a resident of Midtown
on May 30, 2008 at 11:35 am

The effects of the do-gooders, including the churches, is to act as a magnet to draw in ever more homelss, panhandlers and bums. The Opportunity Center is a major draw. If efforts for local homeless were focused at Byxbee Park, with basic hygeine facilities, telephone, kitchen facilities, etc., that would help our Downtown immensely. You could continue to try to save lost souls, as well.

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Posted by Chana
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 30, 2008 at 11:48 am

Dear Resident,

(I had to correct my neighborhood btw, though I'm on a border so it's probably really "another Palo Alto neighborhood," like you.)

I'm not sure what exactly holding "someone like Frost... accountable" would mean.

I believe you made the point that some have chosen to drop out, and others have not. Most have not. Things are not as simple as they look from the outside.

I agree with you that there should be mental institutions for those who need the help. My best understanding of what happened is that Reagan economics and mental health budget cuts combined with the Rights Movement for mental health consumers led to our present circumstances.

I've met no one on the streets longterm who didn't seem, in my unprofessional opinion (I'm not a psychiatrist), to have mental health issues, along with whatever other challenges they faced. The statistics say that only about 25% of those on the street have a serious mental health condition. No one seems to ever mention that a "moderate" ie. not completely incapacitating depression, for instance, can be disabling enough, especially when combined with other factors.

Even people with serious mental illness can no longer be "made to stay there." It took a ridiculous amount of effort recently for one of my staff to even get a clearly suicidal and hallucinating client who kept standing in the middle of busy thoroughfares hospitalized. They only kept him briefly. This is typical.

And that is for the ones who will even accept help. Unfortunately, there is as much stigma on the street about mental illness as there is in the rest of society. No one wants to be considered crazy.

Tbere were a lot of surprises for me in working with people on the street, and working with the system. For instance, I had clients whom doctors assumed were on drugs, when they actually had brain damage from trauma. Because their behavior was assumed to be due to drug use, they couldn't get disability income, and they weren't capable of helping themselves to get much other care. Half of my clients turned out to have had one, or more, serious TBI's.

There are a lot of things about homelessness that most people don't know. I didn't when I started.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 1, 2008 at 4:10 am can be tough out in the world.

If it weren't for small, individual act of kindness that I've received in difficult moments, I don't know what would have become of me.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 1, 2008 at 3:12 pm

We need to distinguish between those amenable to help, those who need help and those who are straight criminals. For example, there are those who are aggressively pursuing/panhandling people. How about pursuing women with small children, making them feel like they are in imminent danger. Don't believe me? I had one experience so unpleasant it is a very vivid memory even years later. This makes me think that it is absolutely necessary to support govenment/private/charitable social services organizations but please do NOT give money to panhandlers, be they on the streets, on the center median, or hustling after some poor woman.

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Posted by Carroll Harrington
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 1, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Here is a letter to the editor that I wrote after Mary Ann Morgan's death. I commend Chana Pederson's Guest Opinion in the Wednesday Weekly.

Dear Editor,

I read with dismay about the death of Mary Ann Morgan in a lonely alley near University Avenue. I felt I knew her a bit because her photo and story were one of 16 featured in the Downtown Street Team display I designed for the corridor to the city council chambers. To quote her: "My name is Mary Ann, and I’m 60 years old. I am the mother of two. My goal is to retire someday and have a large garden for myself to keep. I hope and pray that one of my children make me a grandmother soon." Her life just highlights the problems of dealing with alcoholism. As a recovering alcoholic who lost her 45-year-old brother and 34-year-old niece to this disease, I believe that it is miracle that anyone gets out of that bottomless pit.

I think that Palo Alto is very fortunate to have the Downtown Streets Team, a nonprofit that has placed 42 people in jobs, and the InnVision Opportunity Center to provide training, support and housing for people who sometimes just need a door to open for them to find a way to function in a very difficult world. Accolades to Eileen Richardson and the others who work tirelessly to bring meaning to the lives of less fortunate people, and my heart goes out to them when someone doesn't make it.

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Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 2, 2008 at 7:51 am

Even the unlovable need love. It is easy to pet a kitten. we give love because of what withholding love does to us.

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