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The Campanile

The Campanile

The Campanile

City should prioritize resources, treat unhoused with respect

Palo Alto should provide individualized support, encourage residents to change attitudes toward those without homes
Art by Rachel Lee

Amid the escalating Bay Area housing crisis, The Campanile urges Palo Alto to prioritize helping its homeless population, especially in terms of providing accessible resources. According to the 2022 Applied Survey Research Point-in-Time Report, over 10,000 people are unhoused in Santa Clara County, with the number of unhoused individuals increasing by 42% since 2009. Despite the area’s well-known affluence, the County has the fourth highest unhoused population in the nation. 

Due to the high demand for housing and the city’s policies that continue to replace affordable housing projects with luxury living spaces, there is a disproportionately large homeless population. Paired with skyrocketing rent prices, which Brain Greenberg –– the Vice President of the nonprofit LifeMoves –– said are triple the national average, Palo Alto systematically pushes out those who rely on below market rate housing or interim housing. 

While we understand the city has made recent efforts to improve its housing crisis for low-income families or individuals, only 6.22% of the very low-income housing mandated by the Regional Housing Needs Allocation have been built since 2015. Instead, the Palo Alto Planning Director Jonathan Lait told The Stanford Daily in 2020 that the city has built “almost 73% of the above moderate-income housing allocation in the same time period.”

We urge the Palo Alto City Council to accelerate its implementation of housing for our low-income population and while doing so, consider the difference between chronic and temporary homelessness. The Point-in-Time Report said chronic homelessness –– at least four episodes of homelessness totaling 12 months in the last three years –– affects 28% of the city’s unhoused population while the rest are veterans, families or youth. 

Also, most of those who experience temporary homelessness have gone through a major life event, like an accident or illness, causing them to lose their job and eventually get evicted. Recognizing that not all unhoused people are the same would allow for more individualized support without creating broad assumptions about the entire unhoused population and assuming a blanket solution can fix the issue.

The Campanile also thinks helping the unhoused extends beyond the local and state-wide housing crisis. Postdoctoral Stanford scholar Derek Christopher said both chronically and temporarily unhoused populations may suffer from physical or mental health disabilities. These can interfere with their attempts at getting support from shelters or nonprofit organizations to find permanent housing. 

Supplying housing without simultaneously providing support in managing the mental or physical health of the unhoused population will only exacerbate the cycle of becoming unhoused. Because of this, we urge the city to mobilize previously neglected supports such as case managers, hygienic services and mental health support for the unhoused during their transition back to permanent housing. 

As Board Secretary of Peninsula Healthcare Connection Donald Barr said, ”Paying the rent for them and assigning them a case manager turns out to be cheaper than having them on the streets,” Barr said. “Otherwise, they end up in an ambulance with calls to the emergency room (or) they end up in jail or in a detox center.”

Finally, we hope Palo Alto residents will not make sweeping generalizations about the unhoused population. Individual community members and several organizations have been defending projects for the unhoused like the safe RV parking program at local churches. But while some have already been taking action against homelessness, ultimately, we think residents who view the unhoused from a place of privilege should let go of their perception of this otherness and treat the homeless community with the respect and care they deserve.

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