Palo Alto expands safe parking program for homeless residents

Approval at church site overrides neighbor’s concerns about crime

Palo Alto Mayor Patrick Burt with First Congregational Church of Palo Alto (City of Palo Alto, First Congregational Church of Palo Alto)
Palo Alto Mayor Patrick Burt with First Congregational Church of Palo Alto (City of Palo Alto, First Congregational Church of Palo Alto)

The city of Palo Alto will expand safe parking for a growing number of homeless residents living in cars.

Despite objections from residents, the City Council voted 5-2 to allow overnight parking of up to four vehicles at the First Congregational Church of Palo Alto at 1985 Louis Road, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

The overnight site adds to eight others at two safe parking programs in churches across town. It’s administered by the nonprofit Move Mountain View. The program allows overnight parking and has case managers work with residents to find permanent homes.

The Peninsula city has seen a jump in the number of residents who live in cars or RVs parked on city streets. A regional housing crisis has led to similar increases in homelessness and people living in cars across nearby cities.

The initial decision to allow the new parking program was appealed by more than two dozen neighbors, who said they needed more time to address public safety concerns. While most residents urged the council to approve the program, many pushed back against the plan.

Neighbors expressed fears of bringing in drugs, fire hazards and “peeping toms.” They also asked whether residents in the safe parking program should be subjected to background checks.
“It’s not safe for our children to bring people in who haven’t been appropriately checked,” Randy Stolenberg, a church neighbor, told the council.

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Rohin Ghosh, a recent graduate of Palo Alto High School, said people who live in vehicles “are residents of this city just like everyone else” and should be treated with dignity and have a “safe place to live.”

“If a new person moves in next to me, I’m not going to be asking for background checks, I don’t think it should be any different here,” he said. “Just because the people moving in here are poor doesn’t mean they’ll bring crime.”

Council members who voted in favor of the program didn’t comment on its approval. Council members who voted no said there should have been more community discussion.

Vice Mayor Lydia Kou, among the two dissenting votes, said she felt “very disappointed” by the program because “there hasn’t been enough trust established” between the city and the community.

— Dana Bartholomew

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