Town Square

Growing Homeless Problem

Original post made by Resident, Crescent Park, on Jul 24, 2007

I just returned from a trip to Italy and was surprised to see less homeless on the streets of Rome and Florence than University Avenue. We have a real, growing problem here in Palo Alto that noone is addressing. There are new homeless individuals coming to Palo Alto every week. We have become a homeless friendly environment and we as a community should decide if that's what we want. I for one do not want to encourage any migration of the homeless population to Palo Alto. The homeless shelter, known as the "Opportunity Center", was a mistake and City Council needs to revisit this important issue now.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 24, 2007 at 7:04 am

Palo Alto and most cities need a caravansary on the outskirts where folk can camp with sanitary facilities. When there is an alternative to sleeping in doorways, you can arrest for sleeping in doorways.

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Posted by Break it Then Fixit
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 24, 2007 at 8:51 am

It is a delight to hear that more homeless are pouring in PA. The problem has to get worse before it gets addressed.

Like they say... bring them on...

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Posted by qq
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 24, 2007 at 8:58 am

The street homeless issue is bad, but what about all the RV and camper homeless as well. South Palo Alto, especially around the Fry's area from Cal Ave / ECR / Park Blvd is just littered with RV and truck campers filled with people that are employed by Palo Alto companies, but are not paid a wage where they can actually live in Palo Alto. These folks often park over storm drains grates so that they can conveniently use them as a sewer.

Perhaps we should turn one of the city parking lots or garages into a low cost trailer park/camp ground where these folks could get power and sewage services. We could then bill their employers so that the services and city taxes are covered.

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Posted by Grumpy
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 24, 2007 at 10:28 am

There is a place in Palo Alto for the homeless to go. It's called the Opportunity Center and it's located near El Camino between Town and Country and the Medical Clinic. Check it out.

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Posted by Don
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jul 24, 2007 at 12:10 pm

Why would it surprise anyone that we have homeless "problem" in Palo Alto.

Even mentally unstable people, as most of the homeless are, are generally capable of responding to normal incentives - both positive and negative.

Here in Palo Alto, we have the Opportunity Center - which draws the homeless region-wide here to our town. Other cities have nothing like this welcoming beacon. To the contrary, in neighboring cities, agressive pan-handlers are discouraged. Here, we allow them to sit and lie on the streets and sidewalks in most parts of town, and the police are instructed to have a hands-off attitude for all except the most abusive of these street denizens.

Yep, Palo Alto has a homeless problem that other cities don't(besides those like SF and Berkeley which have similar attitudes adn policies to Palo Alto.) We could get rid of most of the homeless in short order -- if we only had the political will. We don't. So don't be surprised when the homeless "problem" continues to be an issue here.

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Posted by 1/2 European
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2007 at 1:43 pm

What most folks don't realize is that Europe generally doesn't have the "civil liberties" that we have, and can simply pick up their homeless and bring them somewhere else. So, any tourist spot is going to be cleaned up.

They are also much more able to lock up their mentally unstable, like we did before 1979 ( I think it was about then) when we decided that the mentally unstable have the right to live on the street because it is their "choice". Europeans see us as heartless for not forcing them into facilities, and simply cannot understand why we think sick people have the right to not take their meds and live on the street. ( I actually don't agree with our policy either)

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 25, 2007 at 9:47 am

I think the policy here in the U.S. that you simply allow the homeless population to move into a town and take over public benches, parks, etc. is wrong and needs to be addressed both locally and at the state level. As I drove past the park that's across the street from Spago yesterday evening, the public benches were occupied exclusively by homeless individuals. Why doesn't the police ever notice the same situation day after day? What about the use of public benches on University Avenue by the homeless as private camps...again, the police are turning a blind eye to the situation. What ever happened to the notion of "restorative policing" anyway???? Wake up, it's not working.

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 25, 2007 at 3:37 pm

Again, the public health expense of ignoring the problem exceeds the cost of a caravansary. If we had a place to send them we could send them. It cannot be a full service facility with rules such facilities require, because most of the homeless are homeless because they reject rules. It needs minimal sanitary facilities and an occasional look see to keep them from killing one another. Let the churches take turns running a canteen and traveler's aid, and then let them be.

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Posted by Norm
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 25, 2007 at 3:44 pm

There s nothing that prevents anyone, regardless of housing status, that prevents them from using any of the benches Downtown. Not even the amended “Sit/Lie” ordinance. So, exactly what would like the police to do?

The proposed Restorative Policing project will only address those who are generating contacts with the police, not granting the police extra authority to target those obeying the law.

There is no means for making anyone go anywhere against their will witout due process of the law. Sort of a Constitutional thing.

As 1/2 European alluded to, in many European cities, they make it very clear that certain people are not welcome in some parts of the city. To be fair, it cuts both ways – I have seen the local police in some cities run tourists out of really bad neighborhoods in Spain, Italy, and France. (They would recommend to U.S. military personnel that they move along as well, but let them fend for themselves – but that’s another series of stories.)
The definitions regarding “who” and “bad” are as subjective and arbitrary there as here.

Half also mentions changes in how our country, our society addresses the mentally ill. Government policy in California shifted the responsibility to the local community level in the late ‘60’s. The Federal policy made the same move in the ‘80’s. (I’ll let you historians connect the dots on the common personality involved.) If someone was deemed not to be a danger to themselves or others while taking their meds, they were released.

Resident, and a few others, must have been out of town June 14 & 15 when all the local radio, television and print media (including this very newspaper) run stories about the DECREASE in the homeless/unhoused population of Santa Clara County in general (12%), including Palo Alto’s 30% drop.

Yes, there’s a new face or two from time to time, but most move on after a short stay. “Migration” is a very subjective (loaded) term that grossly over-states my observations. I definitely see fewer of “those people” on the street than there was a year ago.

Which raises the question; what is it about the Opportunity Center that makes it a mistake? Nearly half of the 88 permanent, affordable rental apartments for singles and families are occupied by people who used to be living on the street. Others came from short term housing programs, and would have ended up back on the street again had they not signed a lease and moved in there.

And I’m not sure what aspects of the OC the council needs to revisit. The site, the building and its functions went through the “Palo Alto Process” of boards, committees, commissions, and public hearings for over 4 years before getting approval. The city has no involvement in the daily operations of the service center or the housing.

If anything, the city could loosen up on the use permit so the Drop-in Center could be open after 4 PM and/or on weekends, if InnVision can find a way to provide staffing. Currently, the hours are restricted to 8 AM to 4PM, Monday to Friday. (Oh, by the way, none of the hot meals are served at the OC per use permit restriction. They still rotate from church to church as they have always done. The Drop-in done provide a “Continental Breakfast” of day olds donated by local bakeries.)

If it’s the apartments you have a problem with, contact the county housing authority – they are the landlord. They collect the rent, approve the tenants, and provide overnight security.

If you problem is with the homeless shelter, call 650-853-8672 and tell them you have a problem regarding the Hotel de Zink. That’s the 15 bed, rotating emergency shelter that moves from church to church each month. it has been the only emergency shelter in Palo Alto for a decade or so, though it does have its roots back during the Depression.

That phone number works for contacting the OC for any reason. They even arrange tours as the need arises.

Whoever thinks the OC is one of a kind is right. Other cities want to build a service center with a permanent housing component. Those who have a service center with housing only provide temporary housing at best. Most centers provide no on-site housing, and too many housing sites provide no services. Temporary housing site actually are more of a draw, there could be an opening on any given day. Permanent has a very slow turnover – ask Palo Alto Housing Corp about their churn at Alma Place or other affordable sites.

Anyone who thinks Palo Alto is the only city “region-wide” (whatever that means) with a “beacon” of some kind is mistaken. Were that true, there would be thousands of “them” here instead of less than 300 (okay, 350 counting the RV dwellers). Hell, Gilroy even has a couple – and Los Altos refers to people Mountain View and Monte Sereno sends them to Cupertino, Campbell, or San Jose.

Palo Alto also discourages “aggressive” panhandling, but how does one define “aggressive” in legal terms? Some cities have tried limiting verbal contact, a sign is okay – just do say anything and all is good. Palo Alto actually discussed the rattling of a cup as a measure of aggressiveness (this is Palo Alto, okay?).

Palo Alto has had an ordinance on the books for 7+ years regarding sitting or lying on the sidewalk from 11 AM to 11 PM. There are very few violators, actually (and they mostly housed folks). Like all nuisance ordinances, it gets enforced when someone complains. If you don’t complain, you don’t understand the game. If you do complain, you need to commit. You may get to watch an officer write a citation, and the perpetrator move to legal seating or stand up. You may have to go to court, along wit the police officer, as a witness if the offender pleads “not guilty” to not complying. That’s if they bother to show up in court, and bother to contest it. Odds are, if you get to see the individual arrested, it’s because they missed a court date, or they didn’t pay the fine. But it often takes a month or two for the judge to issue an arrest warrant. The upside for the public is they pay all the costs of the court process and 10 to 15 days of “three hot and a cot” – homeless/unhoused offenders rarely have money to pay fines, even if they go to court.

And if you think Palo Alto has a problem, do some research and think again.

Santa Fe, New Mexico – the state capital – is about the same size as we are, and a bit more isolated. They have a “new” homeless/unhoused problem: where to find the $1 million plus in their city budget to deal with the 900+ people they have living on their streets. Check the article by Julie Ann Grimm in The New Mexican on June 26, 2007 about it. Imagine if we had three times the street population and nothing like the OC, and desperately wanted one.

Oh, and another point for Don; a March 13 press release from the office of Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said:

The Public Commons for Everyone Initiative builds on Berkeley’s existing efforts and borrows many of the successful efforts of other cities – such as Portland, Santa Cruz, and Palo Alto – which have developed safe street programs that provide a combination of service enhancements and enforcement and present an integrated strategy for creating more viable and inviting commercial districts.

The Honorable Mr. Bates thinks we are a model to emulate. Scary, isn’t it?

I would say I’m sorry about this being so long, but that would be disingenuous, at best. There had been a lot of misunderstood information, and misinformation, posted on related threads in the past. I hope this less a dry screed, and more an enlightening monologue. I didn’t even get into the points that many of the panhandlers and mentally ill on University are housed people; illegal alcohol consumption in public (mostly related to restaurants); sidewalk obstruction (again, mostly restaurants); abuse alcohol and/or drugs in general (mostly employed and housed folks); there are NO vagrancy laws; “loitering” is an even more vague concept than “aggressive”; trespassing issues; how people end up on the street, and why they stay there; or other projects that have gotten, or might get more, people off the street, as far as where they sleep. Or, regardless of where they sleep, what they do during the day. (A problem San Francisco admits they have, in spite of finding TEMPORARY housing for a couple of thousand people.)

And I’ve barely scratched the surface of my personal opinion.

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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 25, 2007 at 11:58 pm


You have just made all the standard excuses for tolerating the inhumane status quo in Palo Alto (and other cities of similar stripe).

Mentally ill people, who cannot make rational decisions for themselves, should have no rights concerning their public living arrangements. They should be forced to live in better circumstances (which the state should provide). The European model is much better than our own.

I don't think that Walter's idea of a "caravansary" works in a built out area. Where would one put them, Foothill Park? Stanford dish?

Some of these people are true bums who deserve no sympathy. But there are others that simply cannot make it on their own. This should be recognized, and they should be arrested and placed (against their will) in better circumstances.

There is no rational reason to let them damage a major business district.

Norm, time to get real. Very few of us are shedding tears, anymore.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 26, 2007 at 8:44 am

Norm - There are laws on the books which allow the police to place those begging downtown in custody for a few days without the need for another individual to be the motivating force behind such action on the part of the police. The problem is that the police simply do not want to be involved with the homeless/loitering/begging problem in Palo Alto. I suspect the local judges are in the same boat. When the police and courts stop dealing with those individuals, who set up encampments downtown on a daily basis, and expect the local residents to initiate police action by complaining, as you indicated, I think it's safe to say that Palo Alto has a serious problem. It's not OK for city officials to simply throw their hands up and say we can't do anything. The police have laws on the books, they just don't enforce them. Instead, they make it very difficult to remove the homeless/loitering/begging individual and choose to place the burden on us. What they should be doing is taking those who beg on the streets on a daily basis into custody and forcing the courts to abide by the laws as they stand today. Eventually, those who want to live on the streets will understand that Palo Alto is not a vagrant-friendly city. Yes, it costs money, but so what. Let's enforce the laws.

I also found it odd that there is some data floating around about a decrease in the number of homeless in Palo Alto. Having taken daily walks downtown for many years, I can assure you that there is a huge increase in the number of homeless, vagrant, loitering, begging individuals downtown.

Berkeley likes what we're doing!!! Red flag alert. Stop doing whatever Berkeley thinks is appropriate action regarding homeless individuals. Berkeley has never done the right thing with regard to the homeless, and so, if they like our approach, it's time to do something else. Ditto for Santa Cruz.

Thank you for admitting that when a city provides services, even temporary, to those who live on the streets, it is a draw to that city. It's simply common sense and yet I am continually amazed at how many "homeless advocates" refuse to admit such an obvious fact. They lose all credibility by doing so, but still they insist that services are not a draw to a particular city or area of a city. Palo Alto has drawn more homeless/vagrants/begging individuals to our city (downtown area) by offering services near the downtown area. That's a fact. If you don't believe it, just walk around University and Lytton on any given day.

I have included only the relevant part of the Penal Code below for anyone who wants to read it:






As amended 1/1/2007

§ 647.

Every person who commits any of the following acts is guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor:

(c) Who accosts other persons in any public place or in any place open to the public for the purpose of begging or soliciting alms.

(e) Who loiters or wanders upon the streets or from place to place without apparent reason or business and who refuses to identify himself or herself and to account for his or her presence when requested by any peace officer so to do, if the surrounding circumstances would indicate to a reasonable person that the public safety demands this identification.

(f) Who is found in any public place under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, controlled substance, toluene, or any combination of any intoxicating liquor, drug, controlled substance, or toluene, in a condition that he or she is unable to exercise care for his or her own safety or the safety of others, or by reason of his or her being under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, controlled substance, toluene, or any combination of any intoxicating liquor, drug, or toluene, interferes with or obstructs or prevents the free use of any street, sidewalk, or other public way.

(g) When a person has violated subdivision (f), a peace officer, if he or she is reasonably able to do so, shall place the person, or cause him or her to be placed, in civil protective custody. The person shall be taken to a facility, designated pursuant to Section 5170 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, for the 72-hour treatment and evaluation of inebriates. A peace officer may place a person in civil protective custody with that kind and degree of force which would be lawful were he or she effecting an arrest for a misdemeanor without a warrant. No person who has been placed in civil protective custody shall thereafter be subject to any criminal prosecution or juvenile court proceeding based on the facts giving rise to this placement.

Let's start enforcing it.

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Posted by Visitor
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 26, 2007 at 9:20 am

Resident needs to update his/her legal reference; 647(c) and (e)p.c. were both declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and are therefore unenforceable.

647(f) requires that the person under the influence is " a condition that he or she is unable to exercise care for his or her own safety or the safety of others, or by reason of his or her being under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, controlled substance, toluene, or any combination of any intoxicating liquor, drug, or toluene, interferes with or obstructs or prevents the free use of any street, sidewalk, or other public way." Just ingesting alcohol, or having alcohol in one's system does not subject one to an arrest.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 26, 2007 at 12:15 pm

Visitor - Penal Code section 647 was amended in early 2007 (the version I posted). What was the name of the case that you refer to in your posting and when was it decided?

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Posted by Petey
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 26, 2007 at 12:37 pm

I spend a lot of time on Castro street in Mountain View. Panhandlers, disheveled beggars and wandering crazies exist, but are MUCH less omnipresent than on University Ave in Palo Alto. I used to live near Laurel St in San Carlos. I NEVER saw homeless there. My wife works in downtown Menlo Park. We don't see anything there like what we see in PA.

Clearly it is possible for towns in this area to minimize problems with homeless while staying within the bounds of the laws. PA can't seem to figure this our. So what do these cities know that Palo Alto does not?

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2007 at 1:22 pm

"I don't think that Walter's idea of a "caravansary" works in a built out area. Where would one put them, Foothill Park? Stanford dish?"
It is not compassion that moves my caravansary suggestion, it is sanitation. Unless you are willing to invoke a final solution, it is better to accomodate than to bellyache.
As for where? perhaps we can get a grant to reconstruct a Miwok village with up to date indigs. Where was the last one?

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2007 at 1:33 pm

Another idea. Can a person's DNA be recovered from a fecal sample? If so, take a DNA of all vagrants, and of all human deposits. A match and arrest the depositor and give him two years for abuse of public health.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 28, 2007 at 9:26 pm

I notice there is a homeless person living on the bench at the corner of Churchill and Bryant for the past few days. He stations there all the time either laying and sitting down. Just wonder what police is going to do -- if any.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 28, 2007 at 9:41 pm

Petey - That's a good point. The Palo Alto Police do not seem to know how to deal with the homeless. Their solution is to ignore and avoid them. They appear to be afraid to approach them and move them from benches on University Avenue that they occupy the entire day.

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Posted by Norm
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2007 at 4:45 pm

I am glad some bothered to read my lengthy posting without nasty comment about word count or content.

John, we probably agree more than you might think, similar conclusions based on different reasons.

I was hoping to dispel some of the mythology surrounding the subject, and will endeavor to continue doing so.

I’ll pass on taking the bait of the “excuse” versus “reason” usage debate. I was not seeking forgiveness or apologizing, simply explaining the reality (justified or not, I did not say I agreed or disagreed – remember, I said I took effort to hold back from opinion). The semantics of reason v. excuse can start a thread of its own.

To touch on opinion, the status quo sucks. Been there, done that, not a solution.

No one addressed my question related to the original posting – “What is it about the Opportunity Center that makes it a mistake?”

The thread, as often happens, shifted subject. It seems the focus is restating the problem, and asking why we don’t, again, do what hasn’t worked before. The migration issue is just that – something for discussion that doesn’t advance any solutions. People in need gravitated to where they hear things are better. That’s why some came here decades before the Opportunity Center was a dream. When Urban Ministry started in the ‘80’s, it was to fill a need, it didn’t create it. The OC did the same. It provides more housing and better access to medical and mental health care. Everything else was available in the community before, ineffectively scattered around town.

Not much has been said about why people are on the street (a contributing factor to mental health and substance abuse problems), or new ways of solving the problem. But if that’s where this is headed......

Walter’s idea, though noble, is impractical for the reasons you cite – where you get the space? Also, if there is such a governmentally sanctioned space, they will be held liable at some point by someone for something and get class-action sued for mega-bucks that will go to the folks staying there.

Yes, there are the “true bums” out there along with the truly needy. It would be nice if the fraud laws covered them, so they could be arrested. I find it interesting (and a bit scary) many blow off addressing the liars and cheats, yet advocate arresting those who are acknowledged as mentally ill.

There was little noise made when the institutions that could have provide treatment were closed. Something that should have been done then and wasn’t, and the piper is now getting his due.

Does it really benefit them or us if they are cycled in and out of jails with inadequate treatment, if any? I know of people who have done 30 days or so, two or three time a year. And they almost always come back. And the process repeats.

If you don’t want to shed tears over the people, that’s your moral decision. However, like me and many others, you should be wailing over the tax dollars wasted on answers that attempt to manage the “issue”, and not on solutions that mitigate the problem.

I agree, kid gloves may not be the ideal way, but how Stalinist dare we go ? (I almost said Hitlerian, but people who have never read Mein Kampf might over-reach the parallel, they will probably connect better with the Stalin reference – and similar practices, but I digress.)

The current practices, as mentioned before, were handed down years ago, by higher governmental entities than the city, as the best practice, more humane way, for addressing the problem. Like it or not, the laws and the court tests hold that a mentally ill person who is taking their meds is legally held as rational, and is legally competent for trial in court as we (in the “royal’’, societal sense) have decided.

When medicated, they are allowed to decide – by law since they are now competent – they can care for themselves and take their meds because they say they will (try proving intent, or lack there of, before the fact).
There is precious little space in the facilities not closed be de-funding at the state and federal levels, for the truly violent (like someone who attacks a dog), let alone some who is just annoying (and, yes there are several I find annoying that you don’t realize exist). That is why the California prison system has become the largest mental health care provider in the state – something that has hit the news, again, last week.

As I said in the previous post, places for the annoying, but non-violent were eliminated in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s by the state, because the state (i.e. Governor’s policy) said it was a community responsibility. {I notice no one has yet connected the dots between state and federal philosophical convergence.)

The problem with many easy answers (answer v. solution – yeah, semantics again) posed by some people is the US Constitution, 4th Amendment, and the State Constitution, Article I, Section 1. (But don’t jump to quick, that same clauses protects many rights we have to other things some people objections about.)

Resident from Crescent Park posted –

There are laws on the books which allow the police to place those begging downtown in custody for a few days without the need for another individual to be the motivating force behind such action on the part of the police.

There is no law against begging. Period. The California statue cited later in the posting {647 (c)} states that it is a misdemeanor to “accost other persons...for the purpose of begging”, simply begging without accosting is not addressed.

And someone being cited for a misdemeanor or lesser violations, doesn’t necessarily mean they are taken into custody.

Any lawyer or police officer will tell you, if the officer does not witness a misdemeanor act, they need a witness, which can be the victim, to sign a statement saying the act did occur. I know this is true because I was a battery victim, and even with the presence of my blood, and the paramedics, I still had to sign the citizens arrest paperwork while strapped to a backboard, because the person who called 911 was reluctant to do so.

I know of 2 citations written this year for 647 (c). In one case I know the victim. She was verbally threatened, the person was cited, and his mental health care provider whisked him off, back to San Mateo. In the second case, in was not prosecuted by the county. There were no reported threats, physical contact, or impediment posed. The complainant was bothered by the persistence of the panhandler repeating himself, louder, when he was ignored by someone he thought didn’t hear him.

BOTH cases involved housed people, under the minimal care currently provided. Yes, one probably needs to be in a locked mental facility. The other might be better off at a facility that isn’t downtown, and provides better oversight.

The police do want to do something about the problem, but in many ways, their hands are tied. Do you honestly believe they like the frustration of what becomes an anonymous nuisance complaint, with no witness to the act?

Resident, why did you include 647 (e) in your post? If they are unhoused/homeless, that is the reason – and not a crime. If they identify themselves – no crime. If they can account for their presence – like being in a public place – what are the grounds for arrest?

The police routinely enforce 647 (f) on the housed and those who are not. The officer has to take the person down to the Main Jail in San Jose on Hedding and book them in to holding. After 6 – 8 hours, when the person is “sobered up” and deemed no longer a danger, they are released with a citation to appear in court at a future date (unless they have an outstanding warrant of some kind). Then, the person is free to go wherever, including back to our fair city.

Unfortunately, 647 (g) is severely limited. There is no facility with space to take anyone who is simply under the influence of alcohol coming from the street, in custody or not, who is not medically compromised by their condition. The county alcohol residential facilities are full of people there under court order, and there is a waiting list for others under court mandate (647.2). Even those who are placed on a 72 hour medical hold rarely stay even that long if the doctors (no cops or judges there – it’s totally a medical decision) deem they are safe to release. And their concerns are about the safety of the patient more than the safety of the community.

If you really want something to blow a gasket over, none of the above is intended to address the mentally ill, a big concern of yours. You should check into Welfare and Institutions Code Section 5150, an equivalent code to 647 (g), but for the mentally ill, works pretty much the same way. Both are a bit hamstrung by laws saying there a limits on forcing people to accept medical care if they are deemed rational enough to make the decision. Of course, that is unless a court says otherwise. But since they are not in criminal custody, doctors can’t make they stay if they are okay when medicated. And when they are released, they go “home”.

All of that being said – how do we propose to legally arrest someone who is begging if: they are not dangerously mentally ill, not under the influence of drugs they should not be taking, NOT under the influence of the drugs they should be taking, not intoxicated, not accosting people through verbal or physical threat, who are not trespassing, not sitting or lying on the sidewalk? (By the way, most times the latter 3 are only citations, no arrest.) (Here’s a can of worms for you – why no mention of loitering?) (How about 647a (a) – transporting people to shelters? Perhaps it’s because they must find one with space before taking them voluntarily to the shelter.)

Being in need is not a crime. Informing people of your situation is not illegal. How one does it could be illegal in some situations, but not all. And even housed people can be needy, or mentally ill, or abuse alcohol or drugs.

Resident, maybe we should meet for coffee and take a stroll down University together so you can show me the people you identify as homeless, and who you consider new. Personally, I don’t see the numbers you allude to. Friday evening from 5:30 to 8:30 I walked through the library and wandered the avenue, and saw less than a dozen – most at the library. I saw 2 panhandlers, neither an unhoused/homeless person, and 3 street musicians – 1 how might not be homed anymore (once was, but he seasonally migrates, wintering in So Cal). The musicians were selling CDs, so the have some resources. But I digress, again.

(Oh, there’s the vagrant and loiter words. Give up on vagrant as a legal tack – the word no longer appears in any state code. Loitering is vague {legalize for “iffy”} because the statute itself says there must be an intent to commit a crime. Generally it is limited to areas of high drug dealing, prostitution, or gang activity; most often it is enforced through court issued temporary restraining orders against individuals {Palo Alto has done it before, 3 times I know of in 7 years}.)

Berkeley likes the ideas of: stopping people from sitting on the sidewalk, “acting out” by yelling at passers-by, urinating in public, finding way to compel people to accept mental health and addiction treatment services. Shall we through the baby out with the bath water because Berkeley wants what you want? I don’t follow the logic.

Perhaps we could take page from the Mountain View way, as is frequently suggested by some –

From the Mountain View Municipal Code:
SEC. 21.32. Sleeping on park benches, etc.
No person shall lie or sleep upon any of the benches, seats, or grass plots in any park
or public square or street of the city. (Code 1938, Sec. 501.)

Of course, some will say it doesn’t do enough – it leaves out concrete, brick, asphalt, and gravel areas; and others will want exemptions for children (like the peeing in a park with no restrooms during t-ball). [I am not saying either side is wrong, but having to consider either extreme is silly.]

It may shock some a bit, but Palo Alto, and many other communities, has offered service to those in need for many. many years. Sometimes, it’s pure altruism, sometimes it’s guilt. Sometimes it’s that faith community thing – Genesis 19 with the hospitality for strangers thing like didn’t happen in Sodom, or the lessons Gospels – especially the Matthew 25 stuff. Yeah, the charity thing gets to be a problem when you allow a faith community a toe-hold.

Where people are drawn is often based on rumors they’ve heard. Where people leave is where they find the facts. When they learn there aren’t three meals a day in Palo Alto, they drift away. The absence of a big shelter where they can come and go when they want, as loaded as they wish – they go elsewhere. When they learn every cop who has not seen them before wants to get acquainted, their comfort level send them to the bus stop. Not true for all, but makes many leave after a few days.

That’s why most who are here are ones with ties here, and in most cases, fairly well behaved – or cycling though the system; such as it is.

I welcome Visitor’s comments.

“As amended” doesn’t include enforcement ability as determined by the courts (all the way up to the Supreme Court in some cases), only the text as adopted by the Legislature. One of the amendments was to move 647 (g) up the list from (ff) – a continuity issue I suspect.

As Visitor alludes to, 647 (f) addresses how functional one is, not amount of consumption. Since recent studies show those who admit to having alcohol abuse “issues” (I love that word – it’s not a problem, only a concern. FYI – that is decades old rehab language which has crept into mainstream use.), 19% say that they are functional at work. (And people wonder why they have a problem with their bank account.) The denial factor about an “issue” is what scares me most.

Petey’s comments raise an interesting question – how do you recognize a person as one living on the street? How, in fact, do you recognize someone who is mentally ill? Most mentally ill people not only deny they are, they suspect others of being the sick ones. That’s scarier than the alcohol thing.

Petey, other cities are groping for solutions also. New practices are replacing ones that haven’t been working over the past couple of decades. Because of the migration factor – yes, it exists – most are looking toward regional (multi-county) solutions. But they find barriers when coordinating action within their own county (mostly $$$ factors), progress is snail pace at best. {Look at San Francisco –they are a city/county entity and are digging with a rope handled shovel most of the time. Berkeley’s bold steps balked when they couldn’t move forward without commitments the county couldn’t make.} It has happened here in Palo Alto too, but if you didn’t read past the headlines, you missed it. And the good things as well. For the past 5 years or so, the reality here is, Palo Alto is ahead of the curve – but still dependent on outside support which is slowly coming.

However, that response doesn’t satisfy those who want immediate action to a decades old problem.

I’m trying to not be an apologist – I detest the status quo at least as much as anyone else. It does little to address the needs of the community as a whole, and precious little to fill the needs for those who we all agree need help. But, like it or not, the stuff in the corral when the horse is gone is still what it was while the horse was there.

Sorry – my personal frustration got me. I just wanted to head-off accusatory, inflammatory comments trying to shift the topic to me, the facts as I know them, my opinion, or to anything else away from the point of the thread – What WE should be doing about a problem we agree is lacking in solutions.

I’ve gone too long again and should wrap-up this post.

I wasn’t paying attention, and got sucked into the same vortex that tears this whole topic apart in any forum (live or online) and leaves everyone confused at best – most often frustrated and angry – because personal agendas become more important than action. The point where the “why people ended up here”, and “they should not be here” dominates the topic and the “what do we do” elephant becomes secondary to the “blame game” and “it never should have happened in the first place” stuff that history is bogged down with, and detracts from moving onward.

New solutions are needed, the old methods obviously haven’t worked. Isn’t doing the same thing, the same way, in the same situation, over and over, and expecting a different result offered as a definition of insanity?

Let’s move forward. What is, is; what’s done, is done – the rain has fallen, the weeds are growing, the toothpaste is out of the tube.

Now, what are WE going do about it?

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 2, 2007 at 5:32 pm

Something different? Probably not. Incidentally, the closing of mental institutions was praised as a civil rights victory at the time. We might try what Sacramento did 50 years ago - 30 days on the work farm or a floater - Leave town, and if you are picked up again within the year you get 90 days.

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Posted by Walker
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 5, 2007 at 12:30 am

Mitchell Park has become the Golden Gate Park of Palo Alto with enclaves of bench sleeping individuals. They used to hide on the otherside of the bridge over Adobe Creek where the police couldn't see them; now they don't bother they're out there sleeping on benches at the entrance to the park.

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Posted by "Civil Rights Victory??"
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2007 at 8:29 am

Walter - you nailed it. I was just completing my studies in disabilities when the "civil rights victory" dumped completely ill people onto the streets with a few bucks and some clothes, said "good-luck" and shut down the former institutions where they were clean, safe, fed, got medical care, a social life and work to the best of their ability.

It was my first awakening into the world of semantics and baby-with-bath-water thinking. Why didn't we simply adjust the laws we had to protect those who COULD care for themselves from being forced into institutions? NOOOO, we had to do our usual, throw it all out and hurt thousands of people for the sake of a few.

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Posted by Historian
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2007 at 8:32 am

BTW to whomever stated that California changed in the 60s and the Feds in the 80s...the law at the Fed level changed in 1979..NOW put 2+2 together with accurate info.

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Posted by MM
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 29, 2009 at 1:42 pm

There are about twenty negative comments about homelessness above. Everyone seems to want to end homelessness, but feel that it's not their responsibility. The government should do something, the police ect. Let me ask you: what have you done to help end homelessness?

As it turns out, homeless individuals are ACTUAL people, who are just low on luck. We need to help them on a personal level as opposed to just arresting them or trying to "get rid of them."

It is not difficult to help. You can donate money, clothes, toys or time to the Opportunity Center. You can set up drives to collect the items above. You can get your church or synagouge involved.

Please, get off your computors and have some sympathy for those less fortunate than you.

Imagine if you were homeless. It could happen...