Residents fight church's plan to host safe-parking program for homeless – Palo Alto Online

Residents fight church's plan to host safe-parking program for homeless – Palo Alto Online

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by / Palo Alto Weekly
Uploaded: Fri, Jul 29, 2022, 3:14 pm 24
Time to read: about 3 minutes
Residents near the First Congregational Church of Palo Alto are appealing the church’s application for a safe-parking program. Photo by Gennady Sheyner.
More than two dozen residents near the First Congregational Church of Palo Alto are protesting a proposal by the Louis Road institution to allow overnight parking for homeless individuals at the back of its parking lot.
The residents filed an appeal earlier this month seeking to overturn the city’s recent approval of First Congregational’s application for a safe-parking program, which is administered by the nonprofit Move Mountain View. The program allows overnight parking and partners participants with case managers who assist them with finding permanent housing.
In applying for the program, church officials said that creating a safe parking program would make the neighborhood safer by creating a designated space for homeless individuals who are already living and sleeping in nearby neighborhoods. At a community meeting earlier this month, Associate Pastor Eileen Altman said the church has been contemplating the program for several years and has had discussions in recent months with Move Mountain View, neighboring residents and other churches with similar programs before finalizing the details of its program.
“This is something we thought carefully about and we feel called to do as a congregation,” Altman said at a July 12 community meeting that was conducted over Zoom.
Many, however, left the meeting unconvinced. Todor Ganev, who lives on Embarcadero Road, asserted in the appeal letter that the program would have a negative impact on the neighborhood’s health and safety and criticized the church for failing to adequately consider neighbors’ concerns. He argued that the location of the four designated spaces is too close to nearby residences and that idling vehicles would put neighbors at risk.
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The church, he wrote, should have designated the “safe parking” spots at its main parking lot, which fronts Louis Road.
Ganev also took issue with the fact that participants in the program aren’t required to undergo criminal background checks, an issue that came up repeatedly during the July 12 meeting and that that featured prominently in a recent debate over a similar safe-parking program that Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto proposed last year. In that case, neighbors also argued that background checks should be required but ultimately withdrew their opposition of the safe-parking program just before the City Council hearing was set to review the appeal.
In both cases, officials from the city, Move Mountain View and Santa Clara County, argued that requiring criminal background checks would run afoul of federal and state “housing first” policies, which encourage lowering barriers to entry for individuals participating in shelters and other housing programs. Michelle Covert, homeless concerns coordinator at Santa Clara County, said at the July 12 meeting that the county follows the direction of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which calls for not requiring background checks.
“It’s a HUD policy that counties and communities across the country adhere to,” Covert said.
But Ganev and others who are opposing First Congregational Church’s application argue in the appeal that failing to conduct criminal background checks for participants would place neighbors in danger. Move Mountain View, he wrote, is “essentially gathering a group of unscreened individuals, placing them in proximity to each other (and to residential homes/schools), and not safeguarding the community by running criminal background checks of these vehicle dwellers.
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The program, he suggested, should be finding participants who are willing to provide information for a background check because this would demonstrate their “seriousness about the task” of finding permanent housing. This is particularly true because landlords and employers typically require background checks.
Randy Stoltenberg, who lives on Garland Avenue, submitted a letter of support for the appeal that similarly characterized the proposed safe parking program as a safety hazard for the neighborhood. Stoltenberg cited an incident in which a homeless individual entered his family’s place of worship, verbally assaulted the congregation and was physically removed by those in attendance. He also said he has friends in Palo Alto who had suffered more serious offenses at the hands of homeless people.
He was one of 27 people to add their signatures to Ganev’s appeal.
“The safety of my children is of utmost importance to me,” Stoltenberg wrote. “I oppose any effort that would attract a permanent flow of homeless individuals into our neighborhood.
“I recognize that the majority of those experiencing homelessness are great people who need a hand. But it only takes one bad experience to impact a child, a family, or a neighbor for a lifetime.”
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With the appeal filed, it will now be up to the council to determine whether to allow the program to move ahead. The council established the program in 2020 as a way to assist homeless individuals living in vehicles. It approved the city’s first safe-parking program, which accommodates up to 12 vehicles, at a city-owned site at 2000 Geng Road.
Since then, two local churches — Highway Community Church and Unitarian Universalist Church — have received the city’s approval for smaller programs that accommodate up to four vehicles. At the July 12 meeting, officials from the county and the city noted that to date they have not received any complaints from residents about either of the two programs.
“We have not had any incidents of unsafe action toward any neighbor or community member and we’ll try to continue that as this very small location,” Covert said.
This map shows locations of safe parking programs that Palo Alto has approved (in green) and that the city has received applications for (in yellow). Map by Gennady Sheyner.
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by / Palo Alto Weekly
Uploaded: Fri, Jul 29, 2022, 3:14 pm

More than two dozen residents near the First Congregational Church of Palo Alto are protesting a proposal by the Louis Road institution to allow overnight parking for homeless individuals at the back of its parking lot.

The residents filed an appeal earlier this month seeking to overturn the city’s recent approval of First Congregational’s application for a safe-parking program, which is administered by the nonprofit Move Mountain View. The program allows overnight parking and partners participants with case managers who assist them with finding permanent housing.

In applying for the program, church officials said that creating a safe parking program would make the neighborhood safer by creating a designated space for homeless individuals who are already living and sleeping in nearby neighborhoods. At a community meeting earlier this month, Associate Pastor Eileen Altman said the church has been contemplating the program for several years and has had discussions in recent months with Move Mountain View, neighboring residents and other churches with similar programs before finalizing the details of its program.

“This is something we thought carefully about and we feel called to do as a congregation,” Altman said at a July 12 community meeting that was conducted over Zoom.

Many, however, left the meeting unconvinced. Todor Ganev, who lives on Embarcadero Road, asserted in the appeal letter that the program would have a negative impact on the neighborhood’s health and safety and criticized the church for failing to adequately consider neighbors’ concerns. He argued that the location of the four designated spaces is too close to nearby residences and that idling vehicles would put neighbors at risk.

The church, he wrote, should have designated the “safe parking” spots at its main parking lot, which fronts Louis Road.

Ganev also took issue with the fact that participants in the program aren’t required to undergo criminal background checks, an issue that came up repeatedly during the July 12 meeting and that that featured prominently in a recent debate over a similar safe-parking program that Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto proposed last year. In that case, neighbors also argued that background checks should be required but ultimately withdrew their opposition of the safe-parking program just before the City Council hearing was set to review the appeal.

In both cases, officials from the city, Move Mountain View and Santa Clara County, argued that requiring criminal background checks would run afoul of federal and state “housing first” policies, which encourage lowering barriers to entry for individuals participating in shelters and other housing programs. Michelle Covert, homeless concerns coordinator at Santa Clara County, said at the July 12 meeting that the county follows the direction of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which calls for not requiring background checks.

“It’s a HUD policy that counties and communities across the country adhere to,” Covert said.

But Ganev and others who are opposing First Congregational Church’s application argue in the appeal that failing to conduct criminal background checks for participants would place neighbors in danger. Move Mountain View, he wrote, is “essentially gathering a group of unscreened individuals, placing them in proximity to each other (and to residential homes/schools), and not safeguarding the community by running criminal background checks of these vehicle dwellers.

The program, he suggested, should be finding participants who are willing to provide information for a background check because this would demonstrate their “seriousness about the task” of finding permanent housing. This is particularly true because landlords and employers typically require background checks.

Randy Stoltenberg, who lives on Garland Avenue, submitted a letter of support for the appeal that similarly characterized the proposed safe parking program as a safety hazard for the neighborhood. Stoltenberg cited an incident in which a homeless individual entered his family’s place of worship, verbally assaulted the congregation and was physically removed by those in attendance. He also said he has friends in Palo Alto who had suffered more serious offenses at the hands of homeless people.

He was one of 27 people to add their signatures to Ganev’s appeal.

“The safety of my children is of utmost importance to me,” Stoltenberg wrote. “I oppose any effort that would attract a permanent flow of homeless individuals into our neighborhood.

“I recognize that the majority of those experiencing homelessness are great people who need a hand. But it only takes one bad experience to impact a child, a family, or a neighbor for a lifetime.”

With the appeal filed, it will now be up to the council to determine whether to allow the program to move ahead. The council established the program in 2020 as a way to assist homeless individuals living in vehicles. It approved the city’s first safe-parking program, which accommodates up to 12 vehicles, at a city-owned site at 2000 Geng Road.

Since then, two local churches — Highway Community Church and Unitarian Universalist Church — have received the city’s approval for smaller programs that accommodate up to four vehicles. At the July 12 meeting, officials from the county and the city noted that to date they have not received any complaints from residents about either of the two programs.

“We have not had any incidents of unsafe action toward any neighbor or community member and we’ll try to continue that as this very small location,” Covert said.

More than two dozen residents near the First Congregational Church of Palo Alto are protesting a proposal by the Louis Road institution to allow overnight parking for homeless individuals at the back of its parking lot.
The residents filed an appeal earlier this month seeking to overturn the city’s recent approval of First Congregational’s application for a safe-parking program, which is administered by the nonprofit Move Mountain View. The program allows overnight parking and partners participants with case managers who assist them with finding permanent housing.
In applying for the program, church officials said that creating a safe parking program would make the neighborhood safer by creating a designated space for homeless individuals who are already living and sleeping in nearby neighborhoods. At a community meeting earlier this month, Associate Pastor Eileen Altman said the church has been contemplating the program for several years and has had discussions in recent months with Move Mountain View, neighboring residents and other churches with similar programs before finalizing the details of its program.
“This is something we thought carefully about and we feel called to do as a congregation,” Altman said at a July 12 community meeting that was conducted over Zoom.
Many, however, left the meeting unconvinced. Todor Ganev, who lives on Embarcadero Road, asserted in the appeal letter that the program would have a negative impact on the neighborhood’s health and safety and criticized the church for failing to adequately consider neighbors’ concerns. He argued that the location of the four designated spaces is too close to nearby residences and that idling vehicles would put neighbors at risk.
The church, he wrote, should have designated the “safe parking” spots at its main parking lot, which fronts Louis Road.
Ganev also took issue with the fact that participants in the program aren’t required to undergo criminal background checks, an issue that came up repeatedly during the July 12 meeting and that that featured prominently in a recent debate over a similar safe-parking program that Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto proposed last year. In that case, neighbors also argued that background checks should be required but ultimately withdrew their opposition of the safe-parking program just before the City Council hearing was set to review the appeal.
In both cases, officials from the city, Move Mountain View and Santa Clara County, argued that requiring criminal background checks would run afoul of federal and state “housing first” policies, which encourage lowering barriers to entry for individuals participating in shelters and other housing programs. Michelle Covert, homeless concerns coordinator at Santa Clara County, said at the July 12 meeting that the county follows the direction of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which calls for not requiring background checks.
“It’s a HUD policy that counties and communities across the country adhere to,” Covert said.
But Ganev and others who are opposing First Congregational Church’s application argue in the appeal that failing to conduct criminal background checks for participants would place neighbors in danger. Move Mountain View, he wrote, is “essentially gathering a group of unscreened individuals, placing them in proximity to each other (and to residential homes/schools), and not safeguarding the community by running criminal background checks of these vehicle dwellers.
The program, he suggested, should be finding participants who are willing to provide information for a background check because this would demonstrate their “seriousness about the task” of finding permanent housing. This is particularly true because landlords and employers typically require background checks.
Randy Stoltenberg, who lives on Garland Avenue, submitted a letter of support for the appeal that similarly characterized the proposed safe parking program as a safety hazard for the neighborhood. Stoltenberg cited an incident in which a homeless individual entered his family’s place of worship, verbally assaulted the congregation and was physically removed by those in attendance. He also said he has friends in Palo Alto who had suffered more serious offenses at the hands of homeless people.
He was one of 27 people to add their signatures to Ganev’s appeal.
“The safety of my children is of utmost importance to me,” Stoltenberg wrote. “I oppose any effort that would attract a permanent flow of homeless individuals into our neighborhood.
“I recognize that the majority of those experiencing homelessness are great people who need a hand. But it only takes one bad experience to impact a child, a family, or a neighbor for a lifetime.”
With the appeal filed, it will now be up to the council to determine whether to allow the program to move ahead. The council established the program in 2020 as a way to assist homeless individuals living in vehicles. It approved the city’s first safe-parking program, which accommodates up to 12 vehicles, at a city-owned site at 2000 Geng Road.
Since then, two local churches — Highway Community Church and Unitarian Universalist Church — have received the city’s approval for smaller programs that accommodate up to four vehicles. At the July 12 meeting, officials from the county and the city noted that to date they have not received any complaints from residents about either of the two programs.
“We have not had any incidents of unsafe action toward any neighbor or community member and we’ll try to continue that as this very small location,” Covert said.
12 vehicles. 27 whining paranoid people who offer no other solution. Hey, how about moving them down to Lake Mead where they can cook alive? There but for the grace of (choose your deity) go those who are intent on keeping their neighborhood ethnically, morally, and economically superior.
“There but for the grace of (choose your deity) go those who are intent on keeping their neighborhood ethnically, morally, and economically superior”.

Just goes to show that some Palo Alto residents are not as liberal/progressive, ‘blue’ as one might be led to believe.

Perceived property values and keeping up appearances apparently takes precedence over humanitarian concerns.

Yet another example of pervasive PA NIMBYism.
Palo Alto residents are generous and have no problem with lending a helping hand, but most draw the line at allowing criminals to live in their community. Kudos to these residents for speaking out. Criminals have no place in this community. Open the parking lot for law-abiding folks only.
Let’s get our facts straight:
-Four spaces for 4 vehicles of housing.
-These are not “homeless” people (I’m not putting down unhoused folks, just pointing out they are not). These people own and live in vehicular housing, though transitioning to better housing is desirable.
-Some of the 4 vehicular homes, as has been true in other safe parking spaces, may inlude families with children who attend our schools – and may even know your children.
-In every Palo Alto neighborhood, there are homeowners with prior criminal records. Why are you all not insisting that everyone in your part of town be subjected to a criminal background check, including yourself? What do we really know about you, after all?
-We should not have to go through this “Fear Factor” thing everytime an organization wants to simply offer “shelter from the storm” to those among us who are struggling.
-Suggestion -Get to know some of these parking space folks at other Palo Alto sites- ask how to do it. Might make it better.
I understand the neighbor’s concerns, but this is 4 vehicles, not 40. If you’re living out of your vehicle, you’re homeless. There is no such thing as “vehicle housing.” Even people living in a motel are considered homeless.

I agree that we could all be living near someone with a criminal record. Landlords and employers might run criminal backround checks, but I don’t remember having a criminal backround check done when applying for a mortgage. And unless you do a complete backround check nationwide, a criminal backround check will only show for the county you’re living in. Most people have lived in more than one county and could easily have committed criminal offenses in another county.

Troublemakers probably avoid programs like this. They know they’re under intense scrutiny.

JR, you think criminals are kept out of Palo Alto borders? By what mechanism? As part of their “paying their debt to society” do they have to have giant magnets installed in their feet so they can’t get into the confines of Palo Alto, like the grocery cart magnets? [Portion removed.]
I counted 34 Palo Alto neighborhoods on the PA Weekly neighborhood list.

If each neighborhood provided a minimum of 4 parking spaces, 128 homeless vehicles could be accommodated.

All Palo Alto neighborhoods need to step up to the plate to ease the burden.

It’s not about past criminal records or property values, it’s about humanity and sharing responsibilities.

An easier solution would be for the larger Palo Alto shopping centers to allow supervised homeless parking between the hours of 10PM to 7AM.

Palo Alto residents should not be burdened with the responsibility of providing sanctuary.
I would imagine that outraged Palo Alto residents are primarily concerned about physical altercations, public sanitation, drug abuse, noise, and mental illness issues among those parked overnight.

These are serious concerns.
Just NIMBY folks just using any excuse to not have 4 parking spaces taken up by RVs that will provide safe housing to families. As long as affordable housing is built or created far away from their properties, they are okay.
Affordable housing is being created all over Palo Alto, but you don’t see residents in those neighborhoods putting up roadblocks like this over a mere 4 parking lots.
They are okay with slowing down traffic and traffic calming measures all over Louis Road, but 4 parking lots to house house insecure folks, god forbid that. We now need to run criminal background checks, because we all know house insecure folks living in RVs are prone to being dangerous criminals.

4 parking spots/spaces (not lots).
Mere 4 parking spots
The request by local residents to not allow violent or dangerous convicted felons use this program is very reasonable. A background check is reasonable to ensure the person using the safe parking is not dangerous. It’s fine to let them participate as long as their criminal background check shows they have not committed violence, sexual assualt or drug dealing to others.
These folks are already here Parked in our streets all Over town. Having a safe space would benefit us all. It’s becoming a huge problem and requires innovation.. Cuddos to this Church for their inclusive approach.
The argument that the folks are already here is not completely true. Some will come to the city to participate in the program. Also, they are usually not parked in such child dense areas with little kids walking to school.
To all of the residential Palo Alto RV haters…why don’t you take some time & get to know us first prior to passing judgement.

You will find that except for the lack of certain creature comforts, we are a lot like you…we bleed, feel pain, and are just as concerned about the future as you are.

The burden and responsibility of accommodating the homeless population rests with the Biden and Newsom administrations.

The money is there…spend it.
Anita, the burden of accommodating the homeless (especially the homeless mentally ill) rests on the Reagan administration. If you want to place blame on a governmental entity, start there. But homelessness has been a reality since the beginning of time. “Home” is where your heart is, according to some. But HOUSING is a commodity. And like every commodity, the price of housing is based on supply and demand. Right now, there’s an extreme shortage which is causing a huge spike in prices of rentals and mortgages. No one’s building now, because if everyone got housed there would be fewer opportunities to gouge consumers. In other words this has nothing to do with governmental oversight. Our country is a capitalist society. Until that changes, we will be teeming with homeless people. Here we are living in the heart of the most affluent zip codes in the country. And those who live in this circle refuse to allow “homeless” people to exist on the fringes because THEY ARE PAYING TO LIVE IN AFFLUENCE, not among poverty. Well, suck it up, buttercup, because it’s these zip codes that have caused the problem in the first place. Greed is the number one problem that’s causing homelessness. Can’t blame the government for that. Look within your heart, and see where you could make a difference by allowing people to exist where they have landed — homeless and NOT BY CHOICE.

p.s. Gilbert, I see you there, and I want to keep seeing you here and hearing your voice.
I find the whole plan not viable. One cannot reside in a vehicle in this manner. No running water, sanitation, electrical hookup, waste disposal – needed to be up to code.
One may camp in a campground with a vehicle and services and one may reside in a mobile home in a mobile home park.
Those residing in residential suburban neighborhoods have a right to not have unknown persons invited to live rough in a nearby parking lot. I also disagree with people renting out their not up to code garages for others to reside in.
This has nothing to do with Palo Alto in particular.
“…when life looks like Easy Street, there is danger at your door.”
-Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia

Anyone can fall prey to homelessness through no fault of their own.

Some Palo Alto residents have overlooked that simple fact and have chosen instead to focus their contempt and unhospitality towards the less fortunate.

“Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan also comes to mind…

Folks here keep on mentioning RVs. The safe-parking program does not allow RVs to park at the church, it only allows for car dwellers.
There IS an easy solution that accommodates all concerns. Use corporate parking lots.

Many of these churches are nestled among residential homes and families, whose concerns are legitimate.

The overnight parking is slated for 7pm to 7am. Most companies close down at night and are zoned for non-residential use. In line with Environmental Social Governance (ESG), these companies could make their parking lots available, make progress to their ESG goals, provide a safe environment for the less fortunate, and not impact the long term residents.
[Portion removed.]

Hats off to the residents who have the courage to fight this, I hope they win. There is an area with picnic tables on the Louis Road side of the church where they can park but the church refuses to cooperate.
I find it amazing that residents concerns for safety are being dismissed or shouted down. 4 spots is an admirable goal if there is a guarantee it won’t increase. It is perfectly reasonable to ask what will be done to ensure safety, basic sanitation and the cars be park in a different part of the parking lot. I do not want to see Palo Alto going the way of San Francisco.
I took an informal survey at 3 AM today, to get an idea of how many people are living in their cars in PA city limits. Not wanting to identify anyone in particular, lest the “gang of 27” decide to start meting out some street justice, I merely drove through as an observer. There were many parked sleeping in parking lots, and on street curbs. So whoever is worried about four parking lots populated by ne’er do-wells at a secure church, you will have to bone up on your “scare – em all the way out of the county” skills. Just be careful, there’s more of them, than you. Which just goes to show you — they haven’t been bothering anyone. Why can’t you just leave peaceful people alone?
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