Hope and Despair in Palo Alto

NOTES BY NORSE:  Activists are proceeding on several fronts to defend the rights of vehicularly housed folks up there.  Chuck Jagoda yesterday described on the stream of Free Radio Santa Cruz how Palo Alto activists invited and funded a Santa Barbara social worker involved in the government-run park-and-sleep program down there in hopes of replicating it in Palo Alto.  Attorneys, as can be seen from the press release below, are not waiting for the city to start ticketing homeless people peacefully and harmlessly sleeping in their vehicles, but have llaunched a pre-emptive strike with a demand letter to be followed by a letter.

Jagoda’s account is at
http://www.radiolibre.org/brb/brb131124.mp3.towards the end of the audio file.

Meanwhile Santa Cruz’s “Smear the Poor” Sentinel’s headlines for yesterday scream out the fraudulent “Task Force on Public Safety” pre-constructed agenda redefining homeless survival campers as public safety threats. (See http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/santacruz/ci_24587717/public-safety-task-force-armed-solutions-santa-cruz   ).  Strangely enough, the usually toxic stream of comments following the story has some defenders of basic human rights and common sense.  Jump on and provide your own perspective.


A group pro-bono lawyers from Palo Alto, California has notified the City of Palo Alto that they intend to file suit to prevent enforcement of a new ordinance that they say effectively bans all homeless people from within the city limits. According to the letter, sent by Palo Alto-based attorney Carrie LeRoy, along with co-counsel William Abrams and Paul Johnson, of the Silicon
Valley law firm of King & Spalding, and Stanford Law School professors Juliet Brodie and Michele Dauber, the law criminalizes the homeless in their daily lives and activities and is unconstitutional. The letter also contends that Palo Alto’s ordinance discriminates against the disabled homeless.
The lawyers represent several clients who stand to be arrested and imprisoned if the law goes into effect, according to Abrams. “James and Suzan Russaw are elderly grandparents who need to stay in the area to be near their granddaughter and grandchildren. Mr. Russaw is receiving regular kidney dialysis and needs to be able to drive to his medical appointments. Fred Smith is an elderly man and long-time resident of Palo Alto who, since he lost his job a few years ago, has been unable to afford conventional housing. Since Mr. Smith’s wife passed away and is buried in Palo Alto, where the two resided for most of their lives, he hopes that he will not be forced to leave the city. Mr Smith also needs to sleep in his vehicle rather than outdoors in order to avoid exacerbation of health issues. The Russaws and Mr. Smith are on every affordable housing and shelter bed waiting list in the area, but there is simply insufficient shelter in Palo Alto and Santa Clara County for Palo Alto’s vehicle dwellers.”
The lawyers are contesting the legality of Palo Alto’s Vehicle Habitation Ordinance, which was passed by the City Council on August 5, 2013. The ordinance is one of the broadest bans of its kind, banning all eating, sleeping, and resting in any car within the city limits. “This law is overly broad, and effectively means that the homeless who happen to rent or own a vehicle must leave Palo Alto or risk arrest. They cannot even stop here to eat a sandwich or read a book. This is needlessly draconian,” said Abrams, who noted that a violation of the law carries a possible fine of $1000 and six months in jail. “This is incredibly harsh,” he said.
The pro bono lawyers are working without pay in order to stop the law from being enforced.
“Our clients have done nothing wrong, are not criminals, and do not belong in jail,” said LeRoy. “They need housing, not criminal prosecution.” LeRoy was quick to point out that Palo Alto has no available shelter beds for the homeless. The local Opportunity Center which provides some housing for the homeless currently has a 20 year waiting list. “Santa Clara county in general and Palo Alto in particular have a dramatic shortage of available housing,” according to LeRoy. “It is the height of cruelty to tell people that it is criminal to sleep in your car, but that we have nowhere else for you to go within the entire county.”
The city has also banned overnight use of all city and public parks and facilities. “Palo Alto has been uniquely inhospitable to the homeless and poor,” noted LeRoy.

According to the city, the VHO was passed in order to prevent the homeless from congregating at Cubberley Community Center, a city recreational facility. However, according to LeRoy, there was no need to ban vehicle dwelling everywhere and at anytime in the city. “What about commercial and industrial areas as is permitted in Menlo Park and Mountain View? What is the basis for banning sleeping in areas where there are no homes, parks, or other people at night?” For LeRoy, who grew up in Palo Alto, the question is about the character and values of the city itself. “To me, the question is what kind of town do we want to be? I grew up in this city and have always thought of it as a compassionate, creative, resourceful and inclusive one. It would be one thing for the city to ban vehicle dwelling where it could point to readily-available, conventional housing alternatives. It is wrong, offensive and contrary to the spirit and values of Palo Alto to pass a law that, if enforced, will serve only to punish and injure Palo Alto’s poorest and most vulnerable residents—that is the criminalization of poverty.”

Attachments: Letter to Palo Alto City Attorney Molly Stump; City Staff Report 8-5-13 (Excerpt)

William F. Abrams (650) 590-0703  BAbrams@KSlaw.com
Carrie LeRoy, (650) 470-3144 carrie.leroy@skadden.com

Palo Alto Homeless Update - Despondent Husband Found Dead At Don Barr's $25 million dollar Homeless Asylum

---------------------------------------------------- Decaying body found at shelter by Angela Ruggiero, Palo Alto Daily Post Staff Writer Mon Nov 25 2013 The decomposed body of a man who lived at a Palo Alto homeless center was found in his room, and may have been there for weeks. Lonnie Gullett, 63, was a resident of the Opportunity Center at 33 Encina Ave., where homeless people are provided rooms and services.  The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner was called at noon Friday for his body.  The office said his death appears to be from natural causes. Friend and neighbor Lorin Krogh said he had not seen Gullette for several weeks and believes he was dead in his room for a long time. Mila Zelkha, director of strategic relations for the InnVision Shelter Network, which runs the Opportunity Center, said that employees had noticed Gullette had not been around for some time.  Employees decided to check his room on Friday, and found his body. Krogh said that Gullette had been through some bad luck recently after his longtime girlfriend Vivian “Venus” Sarmago, was attacked.  She had been beaten at the center and suffered a traumatic brain injury that nearly killed her.  Michael Rowe Guilford, 46, of San Jose, was arrested in connection with the attack on suspicion of battery and being drunk in public. Gullette spoke to the Post at the time, and said that at first, Venus seemed OK, but was later in a coma after she wouldn't wake up one day.  She was  left Stanford Hospital paralyzed and is currently in a nursing home. Victim once owned his own business Krogh told the Post yesterday that he had known Gullette for at least 10 years.  Gullette had hired Krogh to work with him on a street team to help get homeless people off the street.  Before, Gullette had been a general contractor and owned his own business in Sacramento for 15 years.  After being hospitalized he became seriously ill, and went on disability. “He was a really good guy,” Krough said. “and he was really bummed out about Venus.” Krogh said Gullette had told him “I don't know what to do,” after Venus was left in a vegetative state. Chronic health problems Krogh said that he and Gullette used to drink together years ago, before they turned sober.  Gullette had chronic health problems and used a wheelchair and Krogh said he thinks the cause of his death was natural. Gullette made Post headlines on April 4 when he fell down the embankment of San Fransquito Creek.  Gullette, who used a wheelchair to go long distances,, was able to stand.  He said he had gotten up to relieve himself, but lost his balance and tumbled 39 feet down the side of the creek bed.  Firefighters had to lift him out of the creek, but he was not badly injured. As the firemen began to pack up and leave the creek that day, Gullette pointed to the crown of first responders and said, “That's your tax dollars at work.  Those guys don't get paid enough.”