One of the most shocking local stories in the past few days was how Palo Alto’s Community Cubberley Community center is becoming, in the words of city manager James Keene, a “de facto homeless shelter”.
The Cubberley parking lot is where car campers spend the night. They’re attracted by the bathrooms and showers at the city run community center. This was one of the observations made at a City Council policy and services committee meeting on Tuesday.
At the end of the meeting, in a 2-1 vote, the committee sent to the full council recommendation that the city ban sleeping in cars, something Mountain View, Menlo Park and Redwood City did years ago.
When it reaches counsel, you can bet that homeless advocates will fill the chambers, making dramatic presentations about how such a ban “criminalizes the poor.”
Every time the issue of homelessness comes before Council, the comments at the microphone are emotional, and the meeting becomes a show.
After an emotional outpouring against a proposal to ban car camping occurred at a July 18, 2011, council meeting, Keene shelved the idea and tried alternatives. One idea was to ask the city’s 42 churches to open their parking lots to car campers.
Two churches took the city up on the offer: University Lutheran Church at Stanford Avenue and Bowdoin Street and First Presbyterian Church at Copper Street and Lincoln Avenue.
But pressure from neighbors caused First Pres to back off. I understand the desire to ban car camping I wouldn’t want a camper parked in front of my house either.
That’s scary to a family with kids. And I certainly wouldn’t want car campers using my yard as their restroom. On the other hand, the streets belong to all of us.
If you’re down on your luck, and all you’ve got is your car, it’s extreme to say you can’t park that vehicle on a public street overnight.
Seeking a middle ground
How about we ban campers from residential streets, but allow them to park for no more than 72 hours in commercial areas where there are no homes? Palo Alto has miles and miles of such streets.
I don’t have a solution to the bathroom/shower question. It’s not the city taxpayers’ responsibility to provide bathrooms and showers. But restaurant owners, who are required by law to provide bathrooms, shouldn’t have to cater to the homeless either. Maybe the Opportunity Center on Encina Avenue would come to the rescue?
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