News

Stevenson House drops appeal of church's safe parking program

Program allows Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto to host up to four vehicle dwellers

A view of Stevenson House from the parking lot of Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto on Aug. 3, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

A proposal by Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto to host a "safe parking" program for unhoused vehicle dwellers received a boost on Wednesday, when Stevenson House dropped its appeal of the church's application.

The program, which the city had already approved, allows the congregation to host up to four vehicles at its parking lot at 505 Charleston Road. Like other safe parking programs in the city, it is administered by the nonprofit Move Mountain View, which identifies program participants and provides case management and other services.

While the city gave the church its stamp of approval, implementation was delayed after Stevenson House, a residential community for low-income seniors, filed an appeal in June. Residents and board members at Stevenson House, which is located near the church, called for the program to include background checks — a measure that the church and Move Mountain View said is inconsistent with Santa Clara County's "housing first" philosophy.

Christopher Kan, who is leading the church's effort to set up the safe parking program, argued that requiring the background checks could deter some potential participants, including victims of domestic violence and undocumented immigrants.

"Our program will actually improve safety for everyone by helping the needy into a professionally monitored path to permanent housing," Kan told the City Council at its Aug. 9 meeting.

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Numerous Stevenson House residents, however, argued at the meeting that background checks should be required to ensure safety. Grace Mah, president of the Stevenson House board of directors, said the facility is trying to make sure that violent felons and sexual offenders are excluded from the program.

"Our cautious position is in alignment with safety considerations for our residents and children in the neighborhood," Mah told the council on Aug. 9, just before members voted to remove the approval of the program from its consent calendar and to schedule a formal hearing on the appeal for a future date.

While some council members, including Lydia Kou and Greg Tanaka, favored requiring background checks, others, including Mayor Tom DuBois and Alison Cormack said they were disappointed to see the implementation of the safe program delayed. The decision by Stevenson House to appeal the safe parking program faced pushback from church members and local housing advocates, who criticized the appellants for linking poverty with crime.

The impasse came to an apparent end on Tuesday, when the Stevenson House board of directors voted to withdraw its appeal, according to an email Mah submitted to the city Wednesday. The email did not explain the board's reason for withdrawing the appeal (Mah could not be immediately reached for comment).

Once the program is established, Unitarian Universalist Church will become the second congregation in the city to host a safe parking program. The city had previously approved a similar application from Highway Community at 3373 Middlefield Road.

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Stevenson House drops appeal of church's safe parking program

Program allows Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto to host up to four vehicle dwellers

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Sep 9, 2021, 9:47 am

A proposal by Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto to host a "safe parking" program for unhoused vehicle dwellers received a boost on Wednesday, when Stevenson House dropped its appeal of the church's application.

The program, which the city had already approved, allows the congregation to host up to four vehicles at its parking lot at 505 Charleston Road. Like other safe parking programs in the city, it is administered by the nonprofit Move Mountain View, which identifies program participants and provides case management and other services.

While the city gave the church its stamp of approval, implementation was delayed after Stevenson House, a residential community for low-income seniors, filed an appeal in June. Residents and board members at Stevenson House, which is located near the church, called for the program to include background checks — a measure that the church and Move Mountain View said is inconsistent with Santa Clara County's "housing first" philosophy.

Christopher Kan, who is leading the church's effort to set up the safe parking program, argued that requiring the background checks could deter some potential participants, including victims of domestic violence and undocumented immigrants.

"Our program will actually improve safety for everyone by helping the needy into a professionally monitored path to permanent housing," Kan told the City Council at its Aug. 9 meeting.

Numerous Stevenson House residents, however, argued at the meeting that background checks should be required to ensure safety. Grace Mah, president of the Stevenson House board of directors, said the facility is trying to make sure that violent felons and sexual offenders are excluded from the program.

"Our cautious position is in alignment with safety considerations for our residents and children in the neighborhood," Mah told the council on Aug. 9, just before members voted to remove the approval of the program from its consent calendar and to schedule a formal hearing on the appeal for a future date.

While some council members, including Lydia Kou and Greg Tanaka, favored requiring background checks, others, including Mayor Tom DuBois and Alison Cormack said they were disappointed to see the implementation of the safe program delayed. The decision by Stevenson House to appeal the safe parking program faced pushback from church members and local housing advocates, who criticized the appellants for linking poverty with crime.

The impasse came to an apparent end on Tuesday, when the Stevenson House board of directors voted to withdraw its appeal, according to an email Mah submitted to the city Wednesday. The email did not explain the board's reason for withdrawing the appeal (Mah could not be immediately reached for comment).

Once the program is established, Unitarian Universalist Church will become the second congregation in the city to host a safe parking program. The city had previously approved a similar application from Highway Community at 3373 Middlefield Road.

Comments

Stepheny
Registered user
Midtown
on Sep 9, 2021 at 11:10 am
Stepheny , Midtown
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 11:10 am

Churches and other non-profits which do not pay taxes should earn the right to that tax free status by doing just what these two churches are doing -- providing a safe place for the "unhoused." That said, these churches should do more to help than just giving RV or tent dwellers a place on their asphalt.

Background checks would make all of the churches' neighbors feel safer and likely, more willing to reach out themselves. Such checks, as the Stevenson House residents pointed out, are normal for those who can pay for their rentals, those who are seeking jobs. Metrics for getting these folks back on their feet should also be established and monitored. A hand up, not a handout.


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2021 at 1:09 pm
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 1:09 pm

Stepheny, know your history before you criticize. The same Unitarian Church played a very important role in the creation of the affordable housing at Stevenson House.

Though I am not a member, I am a neighbor. I know that they are a congregation that encourages service to the community in many forms. I shared Stevenson House concerns about who was going to live there because, from experience, I have seen what some auto dwellers bring to a neighborhood with poorly managed vehicle dwelling--hypodermics discarded on playgrounds, violence, threats to children on park pathways (Yes. Some of the dwellers are that mentally ill.) All of this happened at Cubberley for a time when the city allowed poorly managed and unvetted large-scale car dwelling in the parking lot there. It was a real problem for Cubberley tenants and users, nearby neighbors, including some of the car dwellers. These facts cannot be disputed because there were many witnesses.

While the poor deserve compassion and support, programs like this do need to be managed thoughtfully to insure safety of the community , including the vehicle dwellers themselves. The church had not explained to Stevenson House how they were going to vet tenants to insure safety of their senior residence whose gardens are connected to the church parking lot by a foot bridge. I think their appeal was reasonable on that basis. Sounds like it has been worked out.


It.is.what.it.is
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2021 at 1:35 pm
It.is.what.it.is, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 1:35 pm

How long will they give them to "get back on their feet?" If they are not paying rent, they should go to fast food restaurants that pay $17/hour, which equates to almost $700 for a 40-hour week. With no rent to pay, that is $36K/year. That gives them a head start to go live in a motel (re the fantastic movie, "The Florida Project"). Don't tell me they have too much pride to work at a fast-food restaurant—a paycheck is a paycheck.

Has the Baylands one opened yet? Their goal is to get people back on their feet.

I have sympathy for those who are temporarily homeless due to unfortunate circumstances, but have no sympathy for those who are vehicle dwellers and unemployed, not contributing to society. These spaces for vehicle dwellers end up just being safe spaces for them and they should go elsewhere if they refuse to be employed. I'm tired of my taxes going to the slackers who expect government handouts, as my husband has been working 17-hour days plus weekends for 30 years now.


felix
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2021 at 2:06 pm
felix, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 2:06 pm

I’m very happy to see the needless appeal dropped about 4 monitored vehicles with people living in them.
Thank you Stevenson House Board.
I hope you welcome them with cookies as many welcome new neighbors.
Thank you Stevenson House Board.


Paly02
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Sep 9, 2021 at 10:18 pm
Paly02, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 10:18 pm

This is the right call


relentlesscactus
Registered user
another community
on Sep 15, 2021 at 11:57 am
relentlesscactus, another community
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 11:57 am

Very disappointed in Stevenson House Board for giving in and dropping this requirement. Cowardice reigns. "Housing First" is a utopian fallacy that allows drug users to continue to use when given public housing, allowing them a comfortable place to continue to slowly kill themselves, enabling their addiction. This is 'current thinking', but current thinking is wrong, dead wrong. The same with church members and local housing advocates criticizing the Steven House "for linking poverty with crime". What BS. They aren't linking poverty with crime, they were asking to have the participants checked to make sure they didn't have history of felony violent or sex crimes. While I'm totally into giving people a second chance who make mild/moderate mistakes, there is a limit - and screening out violent/sex-offender felons is absolutely reasonable for these programs - and a reason to oppose them otherwise. I grew up in the Palo Alto Unitarian Church and after 50 years they haven't changed their overarching philosophy of being so open minded that their brains fall out.


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