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May 13, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, May 13, 2005

Can you spare some change? Can you spare some change? (May 13, 2005)

Money would be used to support homeless street-cleaning, which begins next week

by Bill D'Agostino

To support a new program that trains local homeless men and women to re-enter the workforce, Palo Alto's downtown shoppers may soon have the option of tossing their change into large tip jars on the sidewalks.

Susan Hemmenway, the executive director of the Palo Alto Downtown Business and Professional Association, went to the city's Public Art Commission meeting last month to ask for help in designing the jars.

"It's a little bit controversial in that we're trying to replace the panhandlers," Hemmenway told commissioners. They agreed to study the idea, and set up a subcommittee.

The money placed in the containers will support the Downtown Streets Team, which launches next week. A half-dozen homeless men and women will be responsible for cleaning and otherwise maintaining two city blocks.

The six will earn food and clothing vouchers, not a salary, for their work. They will also receive one-on-one job coaching, and will gain references for job applications.

The six people on the team will rotate every three months, according to Marc Dickow, the owner of Jungle Copy and the chair of the committee overseeing the program.

"The goal is to really help as many people we can," he said.

The crew will work on Ramona and Emerson streets, between University and Hamilton avenues. The workers will wear bright shirts and jackets with the Downtown Streets Team logo.

"I want to see if we can make this thing fly," said Norman Carroll, the program's supervisor and a formerly "un-housed" resident who now lives in the Palo Alto Hotel.

The program addresses two of the most pressing needs for downtown merchants -- the desire to have the area cleaner and the desire to rid the sidewalks of panhandlers.

According to a recent survey the association conducted, 46 percent of members said loitering and panhandling was an "urgent" issue, while 42 percent said cleanliness was an urgent issue. Only 5 percent and 9 percent, respectively, felt those issues were "unimportant."

The program is estimated to cost $100,000 for the year. The downtown association will contribute $20,000, in addition to the money raised in the tip jars. The group also plans to host a fashion show fundraiser in June to support the team.

The nonprofit Springboard Forward, which offers job training, is partnering with the downtown association on the new program, and will also apply for grants.

The idea for the Downtown Streets Team originally came from the owner of Coupa Cafe, John Paul Coupal, who wanted to bring a similar program from his native Venezuela to Palo Alto.

The downtown association and the arts commission are currently studying the oversized tip jars. There are numerous functional issues to settle. For instance, officials are trying to figure out how to make the money in the jars easy to remove by the program's officials but not easy to steal.

Initially, smaller containers will be placed inside downtown businesses for shoppers who want to support the team. Those merchants will place a sticker on their window with the team's logo to alert customers.

Staff Writer Bill D'Agostino can be e-mailed at [email protected]

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