H*lp, Not Handcuffs, for Homeless in Palo Alto, CA FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 8 Mar 1999 16:15:42 -0800 (PST)

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FWD  San Francisco Chronicle  February 15, 1999  Page A13


Carolyne Zinko, Chronicle Staff Writer

Palo Alto's new police chief has made dealing with homeless people a top
priority -- and unlike his predecessor, it's not all about arresting them.

In the seven months since Pat Dwyer has been on the job, the police
department has done a turnaround from the get-tough approach that emerged
toward the end of former Chief Chris Durkin's tenure.

Instead of focusing solely on citing the homeless for bad behavior, police
have been given new marching orders. A two-page memorandum drafted by the
chief calls for treating the homeless with more respect and helping them
solve their problems.

He has authorized a luggage cart exchange for any homeless person caught
toting his or her possessions in a stolen grocery cart.

He recently ordered the suspension of a program in which the mug shots of
habitual drunks were posted in liquor stores to deter selling alcohol to
them, because of concerns the program might be unconstitutional.

As a further sign of his commitment, Dwyer is working on a $75,000 grant
proposal for a new program for Palo Alto police -- an outreach team made up
of officers, a nurse and a county mental health worker that would go out on
the streets, searching for homeless people.

The team will help the poor and needy assess their problems, get referrals
to medical or mental health programs, and even give them a ride there if
they need one, Dwyer said.

No funding has been secured for the program.

``It's not against the law to be poor, homeless and have dirty clothes
on,'' Dwyer said last week.

His eight-point policy guideline notes in part that ``whenever possible, we
will address problems associated with our homeless population by providing
referrals to appropriate agencies and services.''

It also notes that ``it will remain the policy of our department to
scrupulously respect the rights and dignity of all people in our city,
regardless of social status.''

Advocates for the homeless applaud what they see as a shift in attitude.

In 1997, the Palo Alto City Council banned sitting and lying on portions of
upscale University Avenue, saying it was necessary for pedestrian safety.
Homeless people cried foul, saying Palo Alto merely wanted to remove
homeless people from public view.

The council also directed police to get tougher on bad behavior downtown by
stepping up patrols to cut down on public drinking, urinating on the
streets and the like.

The council recently voted to study a ban on panhandling from sidewalk and
median strips, citing pedestrian and motorist safety concerns.

Wynn Hauser, chair of the city's Human Rights Commission, called the
chief's outreach proposal ``terrific.''

``It gives a whole different tenor to ways the city has approached the
issue of homelessness. It's exactly right, focusing on prevention rather
than just sweeping people out of the way,'' Hauser said. ``The city's
response in the past has been one without the other -- the stick without
the carrot.''

At the Urban Ministry, the largest service organization for the poor in
town, the Rev. Donna Smith-Power praised the new program.

``My hope is that it will help decriminalize the homeless,'' she said.

She said it would be important for the team to work at night as well as
during the day.

``There are a lot of people who don't come out during the day,'' she noted.

But reaction was different from the homeless themselves, who say the city
is still missing the boat.

``The best thing they could do is give us a place to shower,'' said Philip
Crusch, 49, a former housepainter who has been homeless for four years.

Crusch was pushing two shopping carts full of bottles to a recycling center
near the Lucky grocery store in south Palo Alto on Friday.

He said a nurse or a social worker would be of little value to him, since
he is a veteran and goes to the Veteran's Affairs Hospital in Menlo Park or
Palo Alto when he is ill.

Another homeless man, who identified himself only as Roger, a 30-year-old
who said he has worked as a carpenter, scoffed at the idea of an outreach

``I haven't seen anything to help us -- nothing but running us off and
making us feel like we're yea tall,'' he said, motioning toward his knees.
``A nurse and a social worker? That's to make themselves feel better. What
we need is a place to shower, wash our clothes, look for work and get a