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What to do about Downtown homeless, begging

Original post made by Christopher, Downtown North, on Jul 9, 2006

I'm fairly new to town (1.5 years) and so I don't know the history of city decisions nor do I know of any past or current plans to help those who appear to be homeless and who spend their days soliciting or begging others for money on University Ave. I find their soliciting of visitors to the city to be unacceptable and if I were a local or corporate merchant paying rent on University, I would be outraged. Why do we we allow this activity to take place freely, every single day? I patronize downtown merchants almost every day and I'm approached nearly every day for money. There are days when I can't stand in front of a merchant window to look at their merchandise or window display because I feel uncomfortable knowing I'm surrounded by people holding signs, staring at me, hoping to get my attention. This is beginning to try my patience. I can assure you visitors to our city quitely note this activity to memory -"Gosh, PA is nice, but what is with all the street beggars?"

Downtown merchants, the disfornate people I describe, and our community, all deserve better. Can anyone inform me or direct me where I can make my opinion heard?

Comments (55)

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Posted by I agree with you!!!!!!
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2006 at 5:20 pm

Christopher, your are correct; it is pathetic situation. I've lived here for most of my life and there have been homeless people downtown for as long as I can remember. Most don't want help, they want your change so they can buy booze and cigs. Go shop in Los Altos, you won't have people bugging you for change, the doorsways won't smell of urine and the merchants welcome your money. Seriously, I agree with you and wish there was an easy solution. The problem is most of these homeless people don't want help, they want a free lunch.
The City comes up with crazy programs where they ask the Downtown Merchants to fund a program to help promote the Downtown Shopping district and then the use the money for DST (DST or Downtown Streets Program) that encourages homeless people by putting them in a Yellow T-shirt and having them clean up the downtown area and then providing them with some form of payment or tokens that they can spend on food (probably on Cigarettes and alcohol). This only encourages the homeless and does nothing to get them off the streets.

What can you do, you can write to the City or you canuse your money to shop in another City.

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Posted by Brett
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 9, 2006 at 7:04 pm

Palo Alto needs to clean up its act. I pay big money to live here and to be interupted by homeless beggers downtown is an insult. I moved here in 2001 because I thought it was a squeeky clean, upper class kind of city. Was I wrong! For one thing my neighbor keeps his house and yard in deplorable condition and then we have to deal with these homeless beggers when we go out to dinner downtown! This is gross! I'm looking to move to someplace not so scummy ASAP!

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Posted by Craig
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2006 at 7:45 pm

One of the first things we should try is to stop giving them money, and encourage others to do the same.

I think homeless people fit somewhere into a few different categories. Some really are "down on their luck," some are mentally ill, some are addicts and some are excercising their right to good old fashioned freedom, i.e., not having a job and not paying rent or a mortgage. Its not necessary to be angry at any of them, in fact, its counter-productive.

Rather than giving them some spare change, give to any of the great charities that exist to help these people. You can do tons of research about charities on the internet. They can help the ones who can't help themselves, and hopefully sort out the people who could help themselves, but don't want to. There's no reason you and I should be subsidizing those people.

If they weren't getting any money, then I doubt they'd be hanging around downtown. Of course I'm not well versed in the programs like the DST - so that too may be more of a hinderance.

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Posted by Christopher
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 9, 2006 at 8:44 pm

I've enjoyed reading your remarks, thank you. Two things perplex me about Palo Alto. Who and why are people continuing to give these people money? Second, why do I not see beggars at Stanford Mall? If I'm a beggar, I'd increase my odds of collecting money 10 fold by going there simply because there are 10 times as many people to solicit. I'll bet you Stanford Mall has and strictly enforces a no begging policy. Good for them. And what a great place to shop. I can't imagine what our downtown corporate merchants Restoration Hardware and Z Gallerie pay in rent.

Finally, the events that led me to sit down and write today:
- on Friday, July 7, an individual, who repeatedly solicits me, approached me yet again, sticking his collection cup in my face, pleading for eye contact and a "yes" response.
- I witness a woman who begs on our streets, always groomed and clean in appearance, boarding CalTrain late one night headed north. Her cardboard begging sign was wrapped neatly in a garbage bag so as to not attract attention. Guess her part-time begging shift and was headed home.
- Corner of Bryant and University. Friday, July 7, 6pm. Two abled bodied men observed taking turns sitting in wheelchair with sign, coin bucket. Nearly 10 homeless sitting nearby, belongings and all. Same intersection, Sun, July 9, 2pm. Same persons present. 12-pack of beer sitting open on the street, two men drinking in public. Families walking by.

I've got to take this up with the police and city officials. I'll keep you posted.

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Posted by Craig
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2006 at 9:22 pm

Stanford Mall is totally private property, so if you are begging there, they can pretty much toss you out at their discretion.

If people just ask for money, it doesn't offend me since you can either say no, or ignore them. I do strongly object to urination and defacation in public, or anywhere that isn't a flushable toilet! Unfortunately, one activity seems to follow the other.

Some questions I have as a relatively new resident are: are there people out there that have opposed prior efforts to deal with the homelessness problem?
Whats the shelter situation? how many are there? where are they? Are they helping?
Are there some "single-room-occupancy" type hotels down there that attract a transient population?

I think its interesting to read others who share a concern over issues like homelessness and quality of education after having paid alot of money to "buy into" Palo Alto. I consider myself one of those people. For us, there's a lot at stake financially. We have an interest in maintaining a safe, clean community with great schools. That interest is hopefully shared by many who have lived here a long time!

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Posted by Don Barr
a resident of University South
on Jul 10, 2006 at 8:13 am

My reaction to a person on the street asking for money is much the same as those expressed in this forum. In all the years I have lived in Palo Alto, I have yet to put money in the cup. Deciding not to offer money does not mean I choose not to offer compassion. This is why I have worked for nearly a decade to help create the Opportunity Center (, which will provide any person who is homeless the warmth of a compassionate welcome, a shower, something warm to eat, and help finding housing. I suggest that those who are unsure of where their money will go should they put it in the cup, instead recall the slogan of a facility for the homeless in Victoria, BC: "Don't give them money; offer them change." The Opportunity Center provides a path to that change.

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Posted by whole foods
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 10, 2006 at 8:59 am

whole foods is probably the worst place to shop with all the numerous beggars out front, with chairs!!!

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Posted by Jeff Rensch
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 10, 2006 at 9:21 am

Hello all -

Don Barr's recent post says what I would want to say as well. There are important and hopeful steps being taken right now for positive change, so our city should be proud of what it is doing. I just want to add that my sense of the Downtown Streets Team is very very different from that of a recent poster. These are people working very hard to make positive change in their lives -- and they are busy cleaning *our* public space, for which we can be grateful. When you see one of these folks in their yellow shirts, talk to him/her and you will see what I mean.


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Posted by Richard
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 10, 2006 at 10:18 am

I feel quite the contrary. I would take a zero tolerance position regarding the street beggars.
My cousin was a Palo Alto Pan Handler, and by his own proclamation one of the best on the street. We tried everything we could as a family to straighten him out and get him to fly right. His response, after numerous failed attempts by just about everyone in the family at one time or another, was that he didn't want to change. He liked living on the streets. He finally died from serosis a few years ago.
When I see someone give these guys, and in some cases gals, money I just want to scream. If you don't give them a reward for living the life they choose perhaps they will choose to change. Or at least go somewhere more lucrative.

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Posted by Bratt
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 10, 2006 at 11:54 am

My neighbor only washes his car once a month - I find this sight deplorable in every aspect! The streets of downtown are not lined with gold and diamonds as I was led to believe before I moved here. This is an atrocity and is unacceptable. There was this fellow on Oregon driving a Toyota instead of a BMW - WHAT KIND OF CITY IS THIS?

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Posted by Craig
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 10, 2006 at 3:01 pm

I don't think anyone is saying that we demand the streets be lined with gold and that everyone drive an expensive car. I don't think asking people to not urinate on the sidewalks is really asking too much.

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Posted by susie
a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2006 at 3:19 pm

We moved to Palo Alto in 1964 and in those days there were NO BEGGARS, no homeless and the downtown streets were clean. In my opinion University Avenue and the entrance to Whole Foods are inexcusable and gross. Shopping in other cities is a pleasure.

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Posted by Bratt
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 10, 2006 at 3:24 pm

How hard is it to just say no? Is the minor inconvenience of having a stranger shake a cup of change in your general direction such a huge problem? It's not as if there is some inherent obligation to hand over the spare change from that $5 vanilla latte you just purchased.

Sure, public urination is pretty disgusting. However, this is not a problem that is attributed only to the homeless. Try glancing around a parking lot after a night out at F&A's or Nola's. I guarantee you'll find a handful of drunk adults decked out in expensive brand-name clothing relieving their bladders with complete disregard of their surroundings.

From the tone of some comments in this topic, I wouldn't be surprised if many of you would love to just have a freight train ship these homeless people off to a "centralization camp" where you wouldn't have to be bothered anymore by these "lower specimens of life". Just because someone does not have a home does not make them subhuman.

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Posted by Andrew L. Freedman
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 10, 2006 at 3:29 pm

Yikes! I grew up here, my whole life - 50 years. Financially, I've always struggled because I choose to live here and I'm a renter, and as most of you folks know, it's fairly expensive.

There have been times when I have gone hungry in-between paychecks and have wondered if I'd have to end up "begging" for money.

One time, I thought, Hmmmm, I have some relics of the recently torn-down Stanford Stadium and also have a pendent that I found (new in a bag) of the World Cup that Palo Alto hosted in 1995. I thought that, maybe, I would call up a particular now-former council member that I know - and who likes soccer (the Stanford/Palo Alto Playing (Soccer) Fields are his legacy)- to see if I could sell them for $10 for groceries. And then I thought, “What if he found that offensive.” Fortunately, I never had to do that, as I ended up calling on a friend. I had a friend that was very well off, dressed well and was my size. One day, I asked that if he had clothes that he normally donates to Goodwill, I’d certainly like them. He found that very offensive that I would ask that.

I'm very tolerant of the beggars - even the pros that hang out by Whole Foods. I don't look at it in a negative light. They're in a rut. They got accustomed to "making their money" this way. Many don't look employable. Most probably get some kind of social security or maybe their service-connected veterans getting some monthly income. This may be the only way "they think" they can supplement their income.

I bet, though, that if you needed some quick yard work or something and asked if they would work for a half-hour for 10 bucks, they would - just my guess.

Palo Alto still is a great city, "beggars" and all.


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Posted by GSB
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 10, 2006 at 4:31 pm

Are you saying that should Palo Alto somehow be exempt from having homeless people?

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Posted by Anna
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 10, 2006 at 6:40 pm

I think it is extremely sad that downtown Palo Alto has so many homeless people. To me it makes sense to see many homeless in big cities like San Francisco or NY, but why Palo Alto?
I have learned to live with this reality but I have to admit that when my family and I decide to go for walks, we are chosing more and more often different destinations because of the sad atmosphere (and some of the smells) of downtown Palo Alto.

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Posted by Very Tas
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 10, 2006 at 9:00 pm

Why is it a problem to encounter a beggar? True, defactation and urination in public shuold be verbotten, but why does someone asking for money offend us?

I often ask myself this question as I'm handing over a $1 bill to the various street people I encounter on a Daily basis.

There are times when I know that the person asking for money is not quite as needy as some others. Sometimes I don't like the way the person looks, or that they're lying about their malady (I've seen a woman with a sign for years that says "I have cancer, need money for my children). Sometimes I see the person to whom I've given money buying a nice traet at Whole Foods, or Mollie Stones. Live and let live.

Consider the opportunity to give $1 to someone a gift. It's not always easy; in fact sometimes it's downright aggravating. I see it as a discipline; give to everyone who asks - why not?

Some interesting information:

"During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, there emerged the concept of the pauper as someone distinct from the great mass of society, as one who derived his subsistence from alms and begging rather than from work. Furthermore, such individuals came to be identified, along with monks and other practitioners of voluntary poverty, as members of Christ's poor..."

"Medieval charity in its various forms, therefore, was intended to assuage the sins of the well-to-do and to ameliorate the condition of the deserving poor. It was not until the sixteenth century, as Brian Pullan points out, that society seriously attempted to assist and reform the lives of the marginalized poor. Before then, prostitutes, criminals, and other street people lived only at society's fringe, exposed to the uncertainties of begging and the law, and were blamed for their idleness and dissolute behavior"

Web Link

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Posted by FYI
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 11, 2006 at 11:56 am

Having worked for years with the homeless population in San Jose/Mountain View/Sunnyvale I think the first thing to do is to
create a Task Force and give them 30 days to find out who the people
downtown "Begging" actually are. Palo Alto is a city of Priviledge,
and some see this as an opportunity to get a free lunch so to speak. The first assumption is that they are homeless, which may be true in some cases but not neccesarily. Begging is not inherent to homelessness. So my guess is that some of the panhandlers may come from the VA hospital in PA since a lot of the poor are actually former soldiers, some are probably from the nearby homeless program across the railroad tracks and some are probably from the single occupancy housing in or near downtown. Sunnyvale/Mountain View and
San Jose for the most part don't have the open begging as a problem
so looking at what these cities are doing should be a part of the
equation. Once you have the information needed you can then pass this
on to the city government and determine which is the best course of
action it could be anything from working with local programs to create alternatives to police enforcing no loitering. Either way the
city residents should not be harrassed when trying to enjoy downtown.

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Posted by Ed
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 11, 2006 at 2:10 pm

One of the reasons Palo Alto has a large number of beggars is they know people here will give them money. Stop giving them money for booze and drugs. Give them food, a drink, or a snack instead.

Oh, and that Palo Alto Hotel on High street is an embarassment and feeding ground for transients, ex-cons, and drug users/dealers. How about eminent domain for that building? I am embarassed that "roach motel" even has the words "Palo Alto" associated with it.

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Posted by Kirk
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 11, 2006 at 2:28 pm

My wife quit shopping Downtown a few years ago - too many bums. I still go there on occasion, but I don't give the bums a cent. Palo Alto is decaying Downtown, and it just can't seem to get real about it.

One of the big problems is the churches/synagogues that provide a magnet to draw in these bums. Some of these guys just travel the buslines to get here - and wreck the place. The new Opportunity Center will be a super magnet - why would ANY businessman want to do business in the Downtown? Palo Alto is losing retail, and it ain't a mystery as to why.

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Posted by Andrew
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2006 at 3:24 pm

We just moved here, and my daughter (13) went to play basketball in Johnson park one morning, and saw several homeless urinating on a tree, and several more sleeping on the ground. This is not good; it bothered her greatly, and certainly is not healthy. Is it not illegal in Palo Alto to sleep in the park, and pee in public? I see police on University Ave.; shouldn't they also patrol the parks? Can someone from the police respond to this?

I prefer Drew Carrey's approach to the homeless: "Give you a dollar? Do a dance!" In other words, make an effort. Don't just sit there whining or trying to make peple feel guilty. Street musicians and performers don't bother me; it seems to me to be a viable way to make some money. But sitting on the sidewalk drinking all day is not.

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Posted by David
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 11, 2006 at 3:47 pm

Andrew: It appears that urinating in public wasn't illegal in Palo Alto until the city council banned it Monday night. If the police are competent, they'll respond to reports of this kind of thing going forward.

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Posted by Richard
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 11, 2006 at 4:27 pm

We don't shop at Whole Foods in Palo Alto anymore because, yes, it offends me when I walk out of the grocery store with my bags and have someone begging just outside the door.
I was born and raised in Palo Alto and in 57 years I don't ever remember the bum problem being this bad.
When we were kids the hobos used to stay out by the train tracks, but I don't think I ever saw one down town.
When we were teens, the PAPD used to bust us for loitering when they didn't want us just hanging around. Why not the same intolerance for the current trend.
I don't believe that if you offer any of them work for a donation that you will find many takers at all. Most are looking for a free ride.
And yes I am jaded, but only after a life time of work.
Odin forbid that I am ever in a situation where begging would be my only hope for survival, cause I think I would perish.

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Posted by Shannon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2006 at 9:29 pm

I'm glad you posted this topic. I really think the area should be cleaned-up.
As mentioned above in previous postings, I see the same people everytime I shop on University Ave. No one has mentioned this, but at Pizza My Heart, I've noticed for the past year teenagers loitering outside of the restaurant. I talked to one of them 1 day. She said she was homeless. She had a cat on a leash, 2 backpacks, and a boyfriend. There usually are between 7-10 of them at a time. They may be buying pizza, I don't know...I never have seen any of them with food or drink. I just see them playing hackey-sack and smoking something. NOT cigarettes. They have never asked me for $.

But, I do see the men that sit and ask for $ go into PizzaMyHeart buying slices.

I think it really has to be resolved by the city, as if we as residents are not giving them $,
the tourists are definitely giving to them.

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Posted by Craig
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2006 at 10:22 pm

I want it cleaned up too, but I wouldn't worry about it turning too many people off. People still flock to Market st. - the panhandlers are really agressive up there. Have you ever been to Portland? I went there once and there were so many people in there 20's asking for money for a "bus ticket." And by "bus ticket" I do believe they meant heroin.
In any case, most people think of Portland as this really chic, cool, clean green city. I can't stand it though.

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Posted by dumbfounded
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 11, 2006 at 10:34 pm

are you all out of your minds? you are acting like the homeless are preying on you like dawn of the dead. What kind of glasses are you looking through? If you want to ignore a panhandler you can; they are not stalking you.

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Posted by Wendy
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 12, 2006 at 12:05 pm

I recently moved here from Chicago. I fell in love with Palo Alto. I did not have a job when I arrived, I moved here with my husband. We purchased a home here and would like to help this community be a success. My co workers in Mountain View are all disgusted with PA and will not live or shop here.

I quickly became acquainted with many of the homeless while I was in search of a job. Just yesterday as I walked to Form Fitness on Bryant and I was approached by two homeless men asking for money. I have never asked them what they needed it for, today I asked. Do you need food? They both responded they wanted Cigs and Boos and laughed. I asked if they were hungry and they said no, there is food and coffee near the train station.

My husband and I have worked very hard to be able to afford a home here in Palo Alto. I am disgusted at the way in which the city has handled the homeless pan handling situation. I am asked for money daily as I walk into town for groceries errands etc. I have stopped buying food in the buffet at Whole Foods after watching numerous homeless go in and stick their hands in the buffet to sample the daily dishes. I’m sure management must be exhausted of this issue. They work very hard to make a great environment for the residents of Palo Alto. I think the city owes them something.

The homeless know my face just as well as I know theirs. I walk into town everyday after work. It’s the panhandling that makes me angry; there is no pride in this job. A man walks past me and says hello, 20 minutes later he’s in a wheelchair begging for $$. I come home from the city late at night only to see many boarding the train after their daily begging rituals. Another man races by me on his bike and yells hello, next thing I know he’s limping with a sign harassing the public. I offered an uneaten Quiznos sandwich to a man last week that was lying on the ground outside of the establishment, he said “do you have any spare cash?” he refused my sandwich.

I want to help out and make this a great community for all to visit and live regardless of our income, the car we drive or the coffee we drink. We all work very hard, let’s take the steps we need to make this community rock.
I think our first step is to outlaw pan handling and loitering. Is this too much to ask?
Let’s take some action and put a positive light on this great city.
What’s our next step?

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Posted by Kirk
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 12, 2006 at 2:07 pm

The issue of the bums in Downtown is symptomatic of a larger problem. Palo Alto will not enofrce its own 'nuicance' laws. Such things as camping overnight on City streets/parks, leaving cars for sale for weeks at a time (just got a little action on that one). It is unbelievable that CPA has only NOW passed an ordinance to make it illegal for people to urinate and defecate outside of bathrooms. This is 2006, not 1806!

The permissive attitudes of the various City Councils, over the years, especially under pressure from the 'turn-the-other-cheek' church/synagogue crowd has really messed up the Downtown.

Enforce the small things, and the big issues will take care of themselves. The bums won't bother getting on the bus each morning to come to Palo Alto. City Council: GROW SOME BALLS!

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Posted by Anon
a resident of another community
on Jul 12, 2006 at 5:23 pm

Urininating in public has always been illegal. Its a California Penal Code not a Palo Alto Municipal Code. FYI.

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Posted by mike naar
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 12, 2006 at 9:49 pm

Homelessness and pan-handling have been around for a long time, both in big cities and in Palo Alto.

Let's assume for the moment that the "problem" cannot be fixed?

If that's the case, the suggestion of several posters that we "clean" up Palo Alto translates into getting rid of the homeless.

Either jail if it now becomes illegal to be poor in Palo Alto or deportation to some another town.

Realistically, poverty is unlikely to become a crime.

This leaves deportation. In which case, which town(s)?

If we decide we're not going to buy into this NIMBY argument, and we're still of the mindset that the problem cannot be solved, we can initiate "effective deportation" by following some of the techniques suggested above (e.g. don't give money so panhandlers will go somewhere else by choice).

But this still doesn't solve the problem because our assumption is this is an unsolvable problem. We've just moved the problem over to some other community.

Let's relax our assumption for a moment.

Assume there is a solution. There are probably as many reasons for being homeless or panhandling as there are homeless or panhandlers.(Note that the two are not necessarily the same).

Palo Alto is not exactly like Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, where "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average". We've got a lot of smart people living here -- both with and without homes, and with and without pans.

What solutions do you have?

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Posted by Susie
a resident of another community
on Jul 13, 2006 at 9:51 am

Wendy's comments (Wendy,Downtown North) are right on! Palo Alto has NOT always had this problem! People who have lived here for many, many years remember when University Avenue was clean and there were no aggressive beggars. There was a young beggar in front of Whole Foods who was following women to their cars.....the police did intervene in that case. Wendy is right about the Whole Foods buffet,I have seen enough to make me never get food there.

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Posted by Kate
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 13, 2006 at 10:38 am

In response to "Dumfounded": yes,not all homeless people are "stalking us" but I have been yelled at on more than one occasion, asked to "shake my assets" and have been followed by another on a bike who would not leave me alone. All of the incidents aboved happened during day on University Avenue.

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Posted by 30 years in P.A.
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 13, 2006 at 12:52 pm

When I first moved to Palo Alto as a graduate student in the mid-70s, it seemed like a boring, although clean, town. My undergrad years were spent in a city that has something going on around the clock, and at that time had dozens of homeless, religious zealots, and street vendors all over. It was impossible to walk anywhere in that town without getting accosted.

The number of homeless in P.A. has increased greatly in the last few years. I've limited shopping at Whole Foods and never buy anything from the open buffet or salad bar, having seen some of the same grabbing as others.

I have some friends who live in Santa Cruz who claim that P.A. officials load homeless on a bus and send them to the beach. Does anyone know if this is true, or is it just a Santa Cruzian urban legend?

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Posted by Giovanni
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 13, 2006 at 6:44 pm

If you keep on giving the hobos money and assistance they will keep coming back and spread the word to their friends and pretty soon Palo Alto will become a mini San Francisco. I grew up in Palo Alto and when I was a teenager we used to hang out with the homeless, in El Camino Park and throughout downtown. They would buy us alcohol and find drugs for us. We knew most of the regulars and most of them seemed like good hearted people. But I do not recall meeting one homeless person that was actually down on their luck, all of them just wanted to be high and not have to work or have any responsibility just like my friends and I at the time. I still see some of these guys on occasion, 15 years later, still wandering ungroomed,jobless, drunk and asking for money. So why should we continue to give them money so they can continue with their lifestyle at our expense and now to the point where they are affecting business in the area. But maybe its a good thing, they might just bring the property value down and I can finally afford to live here.

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Posted by Kirk
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 14, 2006 at 5:52 pm

-If you keep on giving the hobos money and assistance they will keep coming back and spread the word to their friends -

Come on! Hobos were honorable folk that road the rails, and DID NOT BOOOZE! They asked for food for work. They called the bozers "WHINOS". Hobos have mostly disappeared. We have BUMS in Palo Alto, not Hobos. Call a bum a bum - but not a Hobo!

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Posted by GetOverIt
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 15, 2006 at 4:29 am

I grew up in Palo Alto and now attend a well-publicized private research university in south central Los Angeles.

In the neighborhood surrounding my oasis of spoiled white children, human beings are slaughtered in redundant acts of gang warfare, unwanted newborns are left to freeze to death in dumpsters, earshattering collisions and helicopter searchlight-pursuits routinely wake one up at night, and it is always as uncomfortable as it is eye opening to walk to class in the mornings.

As a child and teenager living in Palo Alto, my view of helping the homeless was fashioned by a gratefully muttered "thank you" or a hasty "God bless"-- when one doesn't have change, it's alright. Coins are acceptable.

In South Central, the homeless come in two varieties. Those bearing trash bags filled with empty soda cans and beer bottles have their sanity, and, more conveniently a work ethic. The "homeless recycling program," as dubbed by students, allows determined homeless people to
exchange cans for cash. This system practically ensures forthright use of money (on essentials, etc.) because it is so labor intensive and such a linear measure of effort. I've occasionally seen better-paid USC janitors participate in their after hours to make a little more cash. Who can blame them? At any rate, these determined people never beg for money, rarely seek eye contact with others, and do the environment of Los Angeles a great service.

The other variety of homeless person in Los Angeles is unquestionably mentally overwhelmed by their predicament. While dissociation enslaves some, the bulk of these people fashion stories to explain, justify-- compartmentalize-- their situation. To them, each predicament is dire; conversely, each passerby is their solution. I cannot count the number of times I've run into the same man (his name seems to change each encounter) who sells wooden flutes at the corner of Jefferson and McClintock Avenues. During the daytime, I've given him a dollar-- a modest offer at which he scoffs. By night, I've bought him food. Because I don't ignore him like the others seem to do, I'm entitled to be his Keeper. Down the street, I've been physically intimidated (at 6'5" I'm usually resiliant to this) into handing over $6 dollars. Around the corner, I run into a petite disfigured white woman in a windbreaker who is always about to receive her first eBanking paycheck! But until Friday, she needs my help. I always ask if she has a place to stay-- she says yes. Her face sags of heroin dependence and past domestic abuse. What can I do, but introduce myself each time, give her a dollar? A black woman, who's gained forty-some pounds since I met her in the winter, waves the same United University Church bulletin and tells me about her dead husband and her dependent children. The most recent time I met her, I didn't have time to let her use my cellphone or give her some money; I had a north-bound plane to catch.

Returning to Palo Alto, I chide myself when I cross University to avoid encountering a homeless person. Every time I pass someone in need I expect to hear them calling after me, angry that I'm another spoiled white kid who won't help. I resent that I reach for my cellphone to make pretend conversation with a relative when I come upon an uncomfortable situation. I loathe myself for avoiding eye contact, for ignoring.

But in Palo Alto, it's possible to ignore. The homeless here don't intimidate or assault, don't fist-fight in front of one's moving vehicle. They rarely clamor for help or die in front of you. They sit-- whatever their motive-- and wait. Perhaps they're spoiled too.

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Posted by Mary Wangrein
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 23, 2006 at 10:38 am

My favorite 'pan handler' is the teacher that is ususally out asking for money in front of Starbucks on University. He says he is from Sequoia high school and it is in desperate need of funds and can't I give?

Are the schools that underfunded that they have to send teachers out on the streets asking for money along with the addicts/homeless?

I fear University Ave is becoming a magnet for anyone who wants to pester the pedestrians for money....a very unappealing feature to an otherwise beautiful city.

It is amazing to me that I confront more people asking me for money in Palo Alto than I do in most other cities I visit around the world (NYC, Prague, Stockholm, etc.)

How far does this have to go before city leaders wake up and realize it is bad for our city to have a reputation of pan-handler-central?

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Posted by Cary
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2006 at 10:07 pm

I have lived in this town for 15 years.

Until recently, the same small group of street people were regularly walking on University Ave, sitting in front of Starbucks ( University and Bryant) and begging in front of Whole Foods. They were always there, but they were not aggressive.

In the last few months, this group has grown and changed dramatically. Many new much more agressive beggers have arrived downtown and the smell of urine is all over University Ave. As a result, it is not pleasant to stroll down University in the evening and it can be very intimidating.

Last night my husband and I were shocked when a man in a wheelchair accosted us at our outdoor table at a University Ave restaurant.

What is going on here? Has the promise of the Opportunity Center opening brought in more street people?

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Posted by Jay
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 8, 2006 at 10:25 am

I went to the art walk last Friday. University Ave. is really unappealing now. It is filthy; the trashcans are overflowing; drunk, homeless people yelling at each while sitting drinking on the corners.
I feel really bad for the merchants who have stores there, but I a much more likely to go to Castro street in Mountain View now.

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Posted by Jim B
a resident of another community
on Aug 19, 2006 at 3:20 pm

Everyone deserves a home. Everyone deserves enough food to eat. However, people deserve the ability to use their city parks for recreation and use sidewalks for walking and shopping, not sleeping.

For many years, we did not consider it a 'right' to sleep in the streets downtown. Somewhere along the way it became their right.

Why can't we use some of the shuttered military bases in the Inland Empire, Nevada and Arizona to provide unlimited beds and food for the homeless - so that no one need be homeless. Then, when people are found sleeping in the parks or on the streets, provide bus transportation to a place where they would be safe and fed.

Unless their real motive is to beg, rather than to have a home.

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Posted by Homeless problem solver
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 20, 2006 at 10:07 pm

I think the first step would be to take the very few public benches on the sidewalk and lease them, for a very nominal fee, to the businesses right there. Let them put up an umbrella and a table.

That includes the pizza place on university.

Get rid of the public benches/spaces that let homeless camp out.

then either they can sit on the uncomfortable sidewalk (which they won't for long) or they will go elsewhere.

this solution has been used in other places. the public spaces become nice sit downs, albeit paid sitdowns, but the overall look improves 1000%. everything is clean again.

additionally, make it a misdemeanor to panhandle and solicit funds without a license. this is another city tactic that works. this gives the police the ability to arrest and push people along.

really people. solving this is easy. it must never come up at a city council meeting. this can be done and over in 5 minutes.

no benches.
and a fine/misdemeanor to give the police something to work with.

that's it.

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Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2006 at 5:20 pm

Roseville has long had a policy of sending indigents to Sacramento. When I came through in 1936 we were told there were no jobs and no relief in Roseville, to go through without stopping and continue to Sacramento. They still follow that policy.
We need flop houses and hostels and poor farms, because people living without facilities are a threat to public health.
Beggars should be required to report their earnings and pay taxes on them.

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Posted by get to the chopper
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 24, 2006 at 1:46 pm

hahaha, high five to whoever said yall are acting like homeless people are the dawn of the dead. if you can't handle saying no to someone, why don't you just lie down on the ground and let everyone walk all over you. you're right about this being a symptom of a bigger problem: palo altans have too much free time to whine about pointless issues.

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Posted by DM
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 27, 2006 at 4:53 pm

It looks like this thread ran out awhile ago, but I was just looking up the Opportunity Center to possibly donate some money at the end of the year. I was impressed by the article in the Palo Alto Weekly and really want to help the homeless.

I used to rent downtown two years ago and my wife and I would walk to dinner and I would walk my <1 year old son to Johnson park. It was a very good existence and we would say hello to homeless people we saw. I like to acknowledge people and share our humanity. Our interactions didn't involve money and they were comfortable. It was probably a factor of me pushing my son in a stroller that tempered any agressive panhandling.

It does seem like the situation has gotten worse as far as more panhandling in Palo Alto. It is always possible to say no and we don't have to treat them as if they are zombies, but we have to give them the opportunity center, give them options, and outlaw panhandling. I think you help peolple that want help to better their situations and make it much less comfortable for the others.

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Posted by John
a resident of Addison School
on Apr 4, 2007 at 7:37 pm

[Comment removed by Palo Alto Online staff]

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Posted by Newsong
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 18, 2008 at 11:17 pm

The reason there are so many homeless is because most Americans don't care about health care, mental health care or simply caring for the people that lost their jobs due to off shoring or out sourcing.

People become homeless for a number of reasons including mental health problems, drug abuse and loss of jobs.

Unfortunately the people that complain about the many homeless are the same that gladly decide layoff 1000's of employees, to offshore millions of jobs, and vote against health care system improvements or an improved educational system.

We like to blame the homeless, when in many cases their unfortunate circumstances are created by society, or people who try to profit any way they can.

Who created the sub prime crisis? Who looses their home? Who wins? Who gets $40 billion to bail them out overnight? Who doesn't?

Why are most native Americans so poor, and why are some of them homeless? Perhaps the right question to ask is who took their land, their gold, their children and shoved them into reservations?

Most Americans prefer to spend trillions of dollars on waging wars in foreign countries, when the issues of homelessness and health care could have been solved for a fraction of that cost.

Only a few Americans care. We can thank them for the opportunity Center, and similar initiatives. In some European countries politicians elected by the people cared, and the problem was to a large extent solved.

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Posted by logical
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2008 at 9:29 am


"In some European countries politicians elected by the people cared, and the problem was to a large extent solved."

Yes, Germany in the 30's

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Posted by Alex Carter
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2008 at 3:08 pm

I currently panhandle in Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and nearby areas.

I had a business, electronic surplus, which I ran for 10 years. The beginning of the economic collapse in mid-2007 hit hard. I actually left, to stay with a friend in N. Arizona, for a year, rather than be homeless here. Then I realized a lifetime ahead of me of Welfare and Food Stamps, which is all N. Arizona offers, is not appealing either, and to boot, if I had a falling out with my friend there or just wanted to live on my own, I'd end up joining the horde, the legion, of homeless there which is like nothing outside the Tenderloin.

So, I got on my 250cc motorcycle, small bike, and trakked out to the coast and up Route 1, and back to the bay area, where there's hope of work someday. In Arizona I'd honed skills as a caricature artist, and made some money doing that, but here in the Bay Area people are sophisticated, and don't care about caricatures much it seems.

Hence, for the time being, I panhandle. I live on a couch at a friend's, for which I pay rent. I pay my taxes (I write down what I make each day in a notebook, and will happily tell the IRS all about it). I am clean and neatly dressed, because through panhandling, I have access to a shower, kitchen, even a phone. A job search is possible - even if jobs themselves are scarce. I am always polite and tell everyone "thank you" etc. This because I'm thanking them for just hearing me, regardless if they give me anything. I'm offered food at times and I always accept it. I generally eat it right there, an offer to buy me an egg salad sandwich at Starbuck's or the taco I was bought at a Mexican place in Mountain View - I was careful to order the cheapest thing that was a real food item on the menu. I try to be the panhandler I'd want to be panhandled by.

When I moved up to the Bay Area, to Sunnyvale, from Newport Beach (I was still running my business at that time) I was very irritated by beggars at the supermarket and the post office. I wrote letters of complaint. I said nasty things to the beggars. Then, as time passed, I started befriending some. I started realizing some are scammers, but many have no other choice. I gradually formulated a policy that I'd give to them as long as they weren't rude or jerks in some way. Ones I got to know, generally rather nice people, got increasingly generous donations from me. I bought food and vitamins if they'd accept those too.

I'd also started reading about the real estate bubble, financial matters in general, an I can say that this current financial downturn was not un-forecast. I started to realize that any of those beggars could be me, or you, or anyone. It takes a frignteningly small disruption of the economy or of one's personal finances to put one on the street, where if one's family and friends are Good Americans, one will have to live on, and get off of, if one ever does, on one's own.

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Posted by Liz
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 3, 2008 at 1:39 pm

Guess what? A lot of these homeless people you complain about were living in Palo Alto for decades before you newbie yuppies arrived. Instead of snorting into your lattes, why not get off your butts and see what you can do to help solve the problem. Your lack of compassion is frankly disgusting.

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Posted by Alex Carter
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 22, 2009 at 3:08 am

Update: I live on an organic farm now in Gilroy, do chores for rent and sell crafts and don't have to panhandle any more so I don't. It's great! I make 1/10th what I did in 2005-2006 etc but it's OK, I actuallly have more security and happiness now. I try to encourage those who are down and out to try making crafts and selling them, maybe some tourists in Santa Cruz where I sell my stuff will want something US-made, locally made, if it's cheaper than the Chinese made junk in the stores. Put Americans to work, we'll work cheaper than the Chinese, happily!

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Posted by Alex Carter
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2010 at 2:58 am

Time for another update. I'm in EMT school, and doing better than ever. What it took was one guy who needed a handyman around the place, and was willing to trust me to be useful, and let me stay here where it's safe and stable. No drama!

Now I try to convince folks begging to try doing some craft, something. I was down in Santa Cruz today because it was school day, and talked with a regular - I'm amazed he doesn't have a flat butt from sitting on the concrete all day. I told him he ought to try some craft, folding origami or something, with materials he can get locally for free or very cheap. He's not sure, he's in his rut. I'm going to try to come up with something he can make and get him started with materials, I've not had much luck getting people on the street crafting and at least doing something for the spare change, but I keep trying.

The EMT school is an interesting story. Basically I helped someone out on the street, a business owner, who was having a medical emergency and was in a bad way. No one else gave a damn. I realized with no job or conventional life in the way, I'm free to become an EMT and aspire to become a paramedic. Since I tend to help people it's perfect.

In closing I must say, most of the homeless/panhandlers who can be helped, will take that spare change you give 'em and regardless of how sure you are that they are spending it on drugs, spend it on sensible survival things and work their way up off of the streets again. Not all the people on the street can do this, and I just hope we can treat them more humanely.

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Posted by Karen
a resident of another community
on Jul 16, 2010 at 3:08 pm

I am not a Palo Alto resident, but I have been working in Palo Alto for most of my career and a number of years in downtown Palo Alto. I see the homeless around me at a daily basis.

Have you ever tried not to complain about the City not doing anything but do something positive to help the poor souls?

One evening, my friend and I had dinner in downtown and decided to give our take-out to one of the men sitting at the corner of the street, drinking his life away. The man began to tell his life story. He was once a positive, energetic individual who contributed to the community. Life was tough to him to one point he had given up hope and lost directions. He had nothing left but to try to drink his sorrow away.

We tried our best to say positive things to him and encourage him to have hope in life. We ended the conversation with a little blessings and sent him off with tears in his eyes and smile on his face.

Would you do something to make a difference today?

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Posted by Atrebla
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 24, 2011 at 10:20 pm

I would rather see a homeless person than one of you any day. I am sickened to know that I live in the same town as such intolerant people who think they made their money by themselves. You all profit off of the fact that there in poverty and inequality. You can assuage yourself and tell yourself it is their "choice," if you want, only to placate your guilty conscience. You don't want homeless people in Palo Alto? Let's make it so no one is homeless anymore. That would be the true solution. Get your act together people.

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Posted by Edward
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 30, 2011 at 6:11 pm

I read through all the comments and I see that there is a lot of sympathy for the homeless bums that have taken over downtown. You'll all be happy to know that I'm moving my startup out of downtown because rent is indeed higher in downtown and I don't like being surrounded by beggars. Maybe some more progressive company can move into the space or, like much of downtown, it'll just sit vacant.

To the beggars, I will grant you this. You are less offensive than the 'Save the Children' beggars. At least you homeless bums don't pretend to beg for anything more than cheap liquor.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 1, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Edward, I don't blame you. I find the homeless downtown to be unsavory & unsafe to be around. I regularly donate to a food closet, help out of work friends as well as help neighbors when they've struggled.

I recall when the homeless pop increased & we have Reagan's ghost to thank for that.

The 2 homeless people I've known are both maladjusted. One is an addict w/a good education & came from a loving home. The other has a family back east, and was an alcoholic who became homeless. Even though he's been sober for many years, he got fired from his job due to laziness, than lost his home even though friends offered to let him live w/them. He always made poor decisions based on his inherent stubborn, inflexible will & judgement of others. It's been upsetting & disturbing to see him systematically make choices that drove him back in the direction of the streets, which is where I think he still is.

But speaking of begging, if you go for VC funding you'll be w/a different standard of "beggars" ;-) Good luck w/your business & I hope you are successful.

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

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