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Homeless Palo Alto Candidate Calls for Action

By Miranda Simon | 27 Oct 2009

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PALO ALTO – Fourteen candidates running for five open seats at the City Council, discussed their views on what are the city’s main issues of concern for the Nov. 3 elections, at a Candidates’ Forum hosted by the League of Women Voters on Oct. 7.

Allowed only one-minute intervals per issue, candidates delved into topics ranging from the construction of a high-speed rail to high-density housing. While they attempted to link these issues to the everyday concerns of city dwellers of one of Santa Clara County’s most affluent cities, candidate Victor Frost, 61, turned to the the homeless – a minority he belongs to.

His platform: the redevelopment of the Opportunity Center – a drop-in establishment for homeless – the replanting of an organic garden where the homeless can sell exotic vegetables, and a day labour program.
Palo Alto is the fifth richest city in Santa Clara County, but it also has the fifth largest homeless population. Seventy percent of the homeless in the County – little more than 3,400 people, don’t have a temporary shelter to sleep in, according to the 2009 Santa Clara County Homeless Census and Survey.

On Sept. 16, the San Jose City Council and the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors approved the allocation of almost $5 million from the a federal relief fund American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), to combat homelessness in Santa Clara County, but many shelters are cutting costs.

InnVision, a non-profit shelter provider that manages the Palo Alto Opportunity Center, reports it has lost 10 percent of it’s beds.
Todd Stricker, 41, has been homeless in Palo Alto for little over a year. He applied for housing at the Opportunity Center in mid September of last year. He was number 1,238 on the waiting list.

The Center boasts showers, laundry and medical services, but the appartments offered for the homeless are in high demand. After a year of waiting, Stricker can say with relative certainty that he’s “80 percent in” if he can provide proof of some kind of income, state that he’s drug and alcohol free, or at least attempting rehabilitation.

Frost sleeps in his 1988 Honda Accord and cites his address as a telephone pole on the corner of Page Mill Road and Park Boulevard. This is the sixth time he is running for City Council and, according to some of his fellow candidates, his chances of advancing from his present position at the backtail of the race, are slim.

When asked, on the podium, what he would do to breach the budget deficit in Palo Alto, Frost responded he would be increasing the deficit by $1.5 million because he is suing the city on the inconstutionality of the sit-lie ordinance.

Passed in March 2007 on a 7-2 vote, the sit-lie ordinance, bans sitting or lying on University Avenue sidewalks between High and Cowper streets from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and sitting on any object that is not a fixed piece of furniture. Frost usually sits on a milk crate. Frost has been arrested 11 times for violating this ordinance.

“It’s sort of a strange strategy,” says candidate Mark Weiss, 45, a concert promoter, who defines himself as ‘more left than the rest’. “Somehow he thinks he’s gonna win.”

Other candidates did not share their views on homeless issues when presenting their platform, with the exception of Dan Dykwel who mentioned the homeless briefly in relation to a housing density question.

Mr. Weiss stated he would not prioritize pushing for subsidized housing for homeless. “I would start with subsidized housing for city workers and the police – that seems more agreeable to people.”

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