BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
When Palo Alto Police tell the people who have been living in the downtown parking garages to move along and offer to secure them a spot at a shelter, their offer is often turned down, Assistant Chief Andrew Binder said yesterday.
Police have a regular schedule of checking the downtown garages, with officers doing spot checks as they are in the area in between, Binder explained. Police will put up a notice saying that in 48 hours the city will confiscate abandoned property and possibly arrest or ticket people for trespassing.
So far, no one has been arrested or ticketed, Binder said.
When police are speaking with a homeless person, they will offer to call ahead to a shelter, such as Project We-Hope, in order to make sure that person gets a bed for the night or the help they need. But in recent history, no one has taken officers up on that offer, Binder said. That doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t going to shelters, however.
Another concern that’s come up is the safety of allowing homeless encampments in the garages — not just for the homeless but for others downtown. On July 15, a fire broke out at an encampment in the Webster garage at 520 Webster St. Police officers who got there first found some personal belongings and trash had caught fire, police Capt. James Reifschneider told the Post on July 15. Police officers used fire extinguishers on the fire until firefighters arrived and completely put out the fire.
Despite the fire being relatively small, smoke poured from the garage and into downtown. Additionally, embers spilled from the fifth floor and caused a small grass fire on the ground level, which was quickly extinguished.
There were no people or vehicles near the fire and no adjacent structures were threatened. The garage sustained no structural damage.
Binder said the cause of the July 15 fire has not yet been determined to his knowledge.
After the fire, police went out the next day to post the 48-hour notices. Three days later nearly everyone was gone.
Police are trying to keep a visual presence downtown and at the garages, Binder said, with officers stopping in when doing downtown foot or bike patrols.
Aside from keeping a closer eye on downtown, the department is working on a new program that will put a mental health professional on the streets, paired with an officer, to help bring psychological services to people in need, and keep them from committing crimes that will put them in jail.
The mental health professional will accompany officers when they visit places such as homeless encampments. The program, called Psychological Emergency Response Team or PERT, will be funded by Santa Clara County. Binder previously told the Post he hopes it can start this fall.