Uploaded: Tue, Oct 8, 2013, 8:09 am
Palo Alto proceeds cautiously on tackling homelessness
City Council approves one-time $250,000 payment for housing subsidies
Palo Alto took a small step toward tackling a colossal problem Monday night when officials agreed to spend $250,000 on shelter and case managers for 20 homeless individuals.
By an 8-0 vote, with Mayor Greg Scharff absent, the City Council approved a staff recommendation to partner with the Santa Clara County on a "housing first" approach toward the local homeless population. Council members agreed that this two-year pilot program will, at best, put only a small dent on the problem of homeless. But given the city's lack of experience as a homeless-service provider, they stopped short of making any other further commitments in this effort.
"The message is: This is a one-time thing. We'll see where we go from here," Councilman Larry Klein said during the Monday discussion.
The initiative was triggered by a recent council decisions to ban vehicle dwelling throughout the city and to keep Cubberley Community Center closed at night. The center had become what officials refer to as a "de facto homeless shelter," prompting complaints from area residents about an increase in crime and a lack of real services to serve the homeless population. In September, when the council voted to keep Cubberley and other community centers closed after 10:30 p.m., members coupled the restriction with a pledge to spend $250,000 on homeless services.
They proceeded to do so Monday, pledging to work with Santa Clara County on getting the most at-risk homeless individuals off the streets. The targets of the program, according to a staff report, include people who have had contact with the criminal-justice system, who have a high chance of recidivism and who "significantly impact county, state or local resources." The partnership would allow the city to tap into a $518,400 county fund aimed at providing long-term transitional housing.
"It is hoped, with assistance of a housing subsidy and the assistance of an intensive case manager, they'll be able to reach the point of stability to be able to transfer off the subsidy to a non-subsidized unit in the future," van der Zwagg said.
The intensive case manager will be tasked with locating new clients, arranging for housing vouchers, preparing the client for housing, finding a landlord willing to rent and help the clients deal with their particular barriers, which could include substance abuse, mental-health problems or criminal history.
This approach was proposed by the Homeless Services Task Force, a coalition of nonprofit groups that has been meeting in recent months to consider a response to Cubberley's closure and the vehicle-dwelling ban. Chris Richardson, director of program operations at Downtown Streets Team, said the group felt it was "a plan that we could all agree was the best course of actions under the current circumstances." But Richardson, whose nonprofit provides jobs to homeless individuals, also stressed that this program would just be the "tip of an iceberg" in addressing what he called a "short-term crisis" spurred by the recent bans.
The program, he said, would move about 15 percent of the city's estimated homeless population into housing.
"Most importantly, we'll work on successful housing-retention strategies so that these clients remain in housing," Richardson said.
Council members all agreed to follow this approach, though there was some debate over whether they should specify that the $250,000 allocation would be a one-time expense. Councilman Greg Schmid and Councilwoman Karen Holman argued that they shouldn't. Schmid said leaving the word "one-time" in the resolution effectively says to the public that the city is "buying its way" out of dealing with the issues related to Cubberley's closure. Holman made a similar point.
"If we leave it in, it gives the indication that we're done," Holman said. "I don't want to send this message."
But the majority urged caution. Councilwoman Gail Price and Klein said the city should provide the funding without future commitments and then proceed with a longer debate on finding sustainable funding sources. This approach, she said, makes sense for a city of Palo Alto's size.
"In this social and economic environment, it's extremely difficult to really thrive and survive for many people," Price said. "This is a very, very important, critical service."
Councilwoman Liz Kniss, a former county supervisor, agreed and stressed the importance of having the city leverage county resources and proceeding with the "housing first" approach urged by staff. She called homelessness an "intractable problem."
"I think having the county involved in this is extremely important," Kniss said.
Posted by Jack,
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 8, 2013 at 11:27 pm
August 19/20 Debate Between Phil and Jack:
Palo Alto votes to shut down Cubberley 'shelter'
Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 20, 2013 at 11:00 am
This was the wise and sound move to make, and I applaud our city council. Any decision that involves those less fortunate in our midst is always difficult. On the heels of the vehicle dwelling ban, this will at least begin to even out the playing field when it comes to our region's approach in dealing with the homeless. I am gratified that our city council members applied some common sense in making this decision, as opposed to being played by the guilt card which is inevitably tossed in these matters.
Palo Alto has long been a magnet for the homeless because of our overall sense of compassion, generosity, and tolerance. Unfortunately there are too many people, especially the homeless advocates, that wish to take advantage of these attributes. They perceive this all to be never ending and without limits, offering little or no regard to the impact it has on the overall quality of life in our neighborhoods. Any past attempts to place reasonable limits have been met with accusations, many of which are repeated on this post, of people being uncaring or out of touch. That's simply not the case.
Quite the contrary. Palo Alto as a whole has carried the burden of the homeless outreach efforts in our region for decades. No other city in our area, if not the greater Bay Area, comes even close to Palo Alto in terms of allocating public funds for homeless outreach, playing host to facilities that serve those less fortunate, as well as having no restrictions on vehicle dwelling, or in this case, allowing people to use public party in the form of a community center as a mobile shelter of sorts. Every other city already has an ordinance on the books prohibiting such activity, and on top of that, have few resources if any allocated toward homeless outreach. And people wonder why Palo Alto has a disproportionately high number of homeless and people living on our streets?
Again, I hope this will begin to spread out the responsibility when it comes to homeless outreach in our region, and give our city some tools that will enable us to preserve the quality of life in our neighborhoods.
Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 20, 2013 at 4:20 pm
Contrary to what some people have said on this board, the majority of people living on Palo Alto streets, or utilizing resources such as the Opportunity Center, have few if any community roots and ties to Palo Alto. That I learned from being involved in numerous volunteer organizations over the years.
On the issue of our faith based community and churches getting involved to form a coalition of mobile shelters, it has been well publicized that only one church in Palo Alto stepped up to the plate.
Posted by Jack , a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 20, 2013 at 5:54 pm
that most of the homeless who live in Palo Alto and use the services have no roots here and therefore do not deserve to be here.
Phil is the one who is incorrect. It is true that many people whom he has come in contact with at the O.C. are not from Palo Alto, but the O.C. is not just for Palo Altans, it is a regional service provider, thus people from Mountain View, Menlo Park and Redwood City have every right to be here.
Secondarily Phil comes into contact with people who seek hand outs from the service providers, Phil does not come into contact with the 20 homeless individuals who work either full-time or part-time and do not need or want charity. These people Phil never sees unless of course he happens to glance at one exiting their car and then wrongly assumes that the person must be a leach on services. About half of these ten have deep roots in Palo Alto living here from 20 to 50 years who even graduated high school here.
The problem with Phil and his ilk is that he believes that unless you are making six figures you do not have a right to live in Palo Alto even if your job is in Palo Alto, even if you are a full time School Teacher teaching Phil's kids their "A, B, Cs."
Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 20, 2013 at 10:06 pm
I will state the obvious in expressing what I believe. No one has a "right" to live in Palo Alto. One lives where they can afford to live, and should not expect others to subsidize their housing just because they "want" or "demand" to live in a certain place. It's called reality. Some people can't afford to live in Palo Alto, just like I can't afford to live in Atherton or Hillsboro.
Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 20, 2013 at 10:40 pm
Allow me to add another thought Jack. I maintain as stated originally that the majority of people living on Palo Alto streets, or seeking homeless outreach services have few if any community roots and ties in Palo Alto. I didn't say all, but certainly a majority.
You are correct in your observation that the Opportunity Center is indeed open to anyone seeking assistance at the drop-in center, and/or if they should qualify for housing at that facility. People come in from all over the Bay Area and even reaches beyond. For that reason it clearly makes my point. Palo Alto plays host to the Opportunity Center along with many other homeless services. Additionally, Palo Alto tax payers allocate a six-figure annual allowance to help support the OC.
This all leads to the point that I'm trying to make, so thanks for bringing it up. Palo Alto is by far the leader in our region for providing homeless services and tax payer funding for those services. As a result we end up with a disproportionate number of homeless people, as well as the many problems and challenges that comes along with that. Trust me, I realize that not every person living on the street is a criminal or threat to society. I get it, so spare me the histrionics already. I also realize, and common sense dictates, that an equally disproportionate number of those people do not find themselves in that situation simply because they lost their job or are experiencing financial difficulty. That is not the case. The majority do suffer from varying degrees of mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and have criminal backgrounds that makes it difficult if not impossible to find employment.
Palo Alto cannot continue to host all of these services, and not have local laws prohibiting things like vehicle dwelling on public streets and parking lots. Palo Altans have a long history of compassion, tolerance, and generosity. We deserve some reasonable limits and boundaries that these laws provide in preserving the quality of life in our neighborhoods.
Posted by Jack, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 20, 2013 at 11:24 pm
you are wrong on several points. There are 7,631 homeless people in Santa Clara County. There at most 157 homeless people who utilize any services in Palo Alto.
There is only one shelter of 15 beds in Palo Alto and that is not the O.C. The O.C. does not have any shelter for the homeless. There is housing located in the same building as the O.C. but it is not apart of the O.C. operations. This long term housing for the poor can be utilized by people who are not homeless, people who are just poor. Even so, the wait list is about 2 years from what I have been told.
Most of the shelters and services are in San Jose where most of the homeless reside. Sunnyvale housed 150 shelter beds.
Since 1992, the Homeless Fund has awarded more than 2 million dollars to shelter and homeless service providers. Some of these grants have funded the following: the San Mateo County Winter Shelter; the Maple Street Shelter in Redwood City and the First Step for Families Shelter in San Mateo; the Catholic Worker Hospitality House in San Bruno; the Clara-Mateo Shelter in Menlo Park; the Bethsaida Family Living Home in Redwood City; and Free At Last's Walker House in East Palo Alto. The Homeless Fund also provides grants for additional homelessness prevention programs and permanent housing projects.
Your statement that, "Palo Alto is by far the leader in our region for providing homeless services and tax payer funding for those services," is not true and therefore is misleading the public.
InnVision which operates the O.C. has a 16 million dollar budget, yet only a small fraction of this is spent in Palo Alto with the majority spent in other communities and on staff salaries.
There are approximately 663,000 long term homeless people nation wide with a 1,600,000 experiencing short term of homelessness each year. Of those given one night of shelter in January 2010 26.2% had a severe mental illness and 34.7% had a chronic substance issue. That leaves about 39% or 624,000 homeless people who are not mentally ill or have a substance abuse problem.
Why do you persist in falsely portraying a large portion of the homeless population?