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Polis Report

Smells Like Civic Spirit

By Ami Chen Mills

Palo Alto has been forced to deal of late with problems of homelessness and pee. This past week, the City Council considered installation of restrooms on University Avenue. In this most desirable of shruburbs, set in the current boomtown of the known universe, vagrants increasingly crowd the edges of outdoor cafes, seeking change from attorneys in Armani suits. One man tells tall tales of woe. Once, he lost his teaching job. Once, he broke his leg. Once, he just needed a drink.

Even the generous find that it's a drag to have homeless people all over the place. They often smell bad. They harass people. They're sometimes drunk, or mentally ill. The homeless make us feel guilty, afraid and sad. They affect us--whether we like it or not.

Congress seems intent on slashing assistance to the homeless--in effect, creating more homeless, which ends up injuring both the homeless and the better-heeled. We all need safe, clean, guilt-free streets to walk on. Investing in the homeless is as pragmatic as paying taxes to plant trees and pave roads.

The Coalition on Homelessness says itinerant populations are rising in the Bay Area. More than 10,000 people wait for housing assistance in Santa Clara County alone.

As homelessness booms, will the rest of us retreat into sterile monocultures and frightened, gated compounds? Or will we invest in our future and walk, shop and eat, in peace, on University Avenue?

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From the August 15-21, 1996 issue of Metro

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