Posted by Chuck Jagoda, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 5, 2013 at 10:59 pm
This article by Don Barr doesn't include some important background.
Some day when the history of fighting for the poor in Palo Alto is written, Don Barr and others will have their names writ large. As his article makes clear, he and many others worked, waited, contributed, prayed, urged, and slowly built the Opportunity Center.
They were then and are now the moral conscience of Palo Alto, a community with a long history of moral leadership. Joan Baez has been a local moral beacon for over 50 years—in the Civil Rights Movement and ever since.
Don Barr and his fellow activisits live the dictum in Matthew 25, where Jesus Christ says that neglect of the least of one's brethren is neglect of Him. It's also walking the talk of “love thy brother as thyself.”
Some of us recently formed the Community Cooperation Team to oppose a proposed City ordinance against living in a vehicle. Many homeowners supported us. Some of the people on the committee were unhoused, others were homeowners, others were renters, and some were Stanford students. One day one of us unhoused members was unhappy about finding that the doctor at the Opportunity Center wasn't there when he came in. He thought there should be a doctor there every day during regular business hours.
Another member of our committee and long time colleague of Don Barr--Norma Grench--said that she could remember when there was no doctor there at all. In fact, she remembered when there was no Oppportunity Center at all. Indeed, Norma is another of those, like Don, who worked and waited and gave so that there could be an Opportunity Center.
Palo Alto has a strong moral tradition that has led the rest of the community and even been a beacon for other communities. But there are also less-than-generous attitudes in Palo Alto. When the matter of whether and where to have an Opportunity Center was being discussed, people said, “This will attract homeless people from all over the Peninsula.”
That was a decade ago. The same voices said the same thing during the recent debate over the ordinance against vehicular habitation (VHO). It's still not true. Unsheltered people didn't rush to Palo Alto at the opening of the Opportunity Center nor with the postponement of VHO.
Like in every other place and in every other person there are good angels and bad angels vying for attention. We always have the choice to listen to whomever we want to be the most like. Sometimes people listen to their fears. Other times we listen to our hearts.
There have been a number of measures taken by the City of Palo Alto that could be described as efforts to exclude, discourage, and segregate those without fixed homes: the parkification of San Fransciquito Creek, University Avenue sit/lie ordinance, limiting restrooms in parks, closing parks at night, etc.
But there have also been successful efforts to engage and provide for the needs of those without fixed shelter—the Opportunity Center being the most noticeable. But there are also free meals every night of the week at various local churches. Many people, institutions, and faith communities are generous in donating time, money, clothes, space, and love. The Hotel de Zink shelters a dozen or so people at a different church every month.
There are parents who, like the parent in Don Barr's story, shudder at the idea of their child having anything to do with an unhoused person. And there are parents who sign up months in advance so they and their children can hang out with unsheltered people being housed at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. They don't want their children growing up in fear. They want them to meet and encounter those less fortunate. The best school districts require their high school graduates to put in six or more hours volunteering in some charitable organization. They think it's good for kids to learn to give back.
Parents being fearful for their children is not unusual. People who will courageously listen to their better angels for no personal profit or material gain—they are a rare and very valuable blessing to this and any community.
Besides the many years of service and support that Don Barr has contributed to the causes of anti-poverty and the unhoused, he is currently the mentor and resource for Stanford students who are incorporating a permanent women's shelter like the Hotel de Zink. They, like Dr. Barr, work hard in the cause of helping others for no material or personal gain.
For information about contributing to the Hearts to Home women's shelter, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.