Homelessness

No Living in a Van by the River in Palo Alto

And whatever you do, don't be a "weirdo"

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"And don't even get me started on how ugly their cars are, am I right?"
Credit: Don Hankins / Foter / CC BY

Some residents in Palo Alto, Calif., (population about 65,000, median income about $118,000 in 2009) really don't like have folks living in their cars in their city, so Monday night its City Council — all the while claiming they care about the homeless, they really, really do — banned it. Courtesy of the Daily News:

At a meeting punctuated by emotional cries for compassion, the Palo Alto City Council voted late Monday night to pass an ordinance that would make it illegal for people to use their cars as dwellings.

Diane Jones choked back tears as she told council members that she only recently became homeless and couldn't afford to put a roof over her son's head with the monthly $1,200 disability benefit she receives.

"Me and my son live in a car and we're not bad people. I'm so afraid what will happen if we lose that," said Jones.

"I'm begging you to just please have a heart," she added to thunderous applause from a packed council chambers.

Nuts to her! They voted for it anyway, while claiming to have to do a "balancing act" of caring about the homeless versus caring about the "safety" of people in the community who, one council member says, "have told us they are uncomfortable with the situation that we now find ourselves in."

But that's okay. Even though they passed the law, they really, really don't want to have to enforce it:

According to a city staff report, the ordinance would be rolled out over a six-month period, focus on connecting offenders with social services and be enforced on a complaint-only basis.

The estimated 30 to 50 people who live in their cars in Palo Alto could potentially be charged with a misdemeanor and face a maximum penalty of six months in county jail, a $1,000 fine or both. City officials, however, stressed that the legal system would only be used as a last resort.

"I believe that this is an appropriate action at this moment with the proviso that we will be looking at the next steps and looking at resources and productive ways of addressing this problem," said Council Member Gail Price.

I'm fascinated when legislative bodies pass laws and then think they'll actually be able to control how they're enforced after the fact. Is Price going to be showing up at these vehicles with the cops to listen to these homeless people's stories to help decide what to do? Will she be in court to request the judge not to sentence Jones to six months in jail? No, of course not. If you don't want to send a homeless person to jail for six months for being homeless, then perhaps don't pass a law that allows it to happen?

It's all just lip service anyway. The whole deal is because Palo Alto is one of the only communities in that area that hasn't already banned living in a vehicle. So, obviously, what was going to happen is that any homeless person who has a vehicle in the area is going to end up there. And that's what residents don't like:

Barron Park resident Bob Moss, who was among the 50-plus people who addressed the city council about the ordinance, said most of Palo Alto's vehicle dwellers are "perfectly normal," but as their numbers have increased at Cubberley, so has the percentage of "weirdoes."

"They're not the kind of people you want to have living in your neighborhood," Moss said.

Maybe they should pass a law against being a "weirdo."