The Poor And Hungry Could Face Limited Access To Free Food Vendors In Hayward

HAYWARD CITY COUNCIL//HOMELESS | Charitable groups that feed the poor in Hayward may soon be required to gain city approval and secure costly food handling permits from the Alameda County Health Department. Some Hayward downtown businesses and city officials say the free food sharing events at downtown city parks often feature excess litter and promote an unsafe environment.

A draft ordinance to be discussed by the Hayward City Council Tuesday night, however, does not address either issue. A second ordinance would limit the use of city parks between sunset and sunrise, according to a staff report released Tuesday. If approved next Oct. 15, both ordinances would be limited to a one-year pilot program.

Sara Lamnin, a longtime advocate for the poor in Hayward says neither proposed ordinance takes into account resident’s concern for safety and cleanliness in the downtown areas. “These issues generally do not occur during meal program operations,” she said. “Instead, a centralized resource, recovery, and re-engagement center can facilitate connections to food, shelter, counseling, and services as well as provide opportunities for those in need to use their skills though productive engagement.” There is also fear the potentially onerous permitting process could make it more difficult for free food sharing vendors to feed the poor.

A changing economic infrastructure in Hayward, along with the extended recession, has stymied the city’s downtown center from gaining any forward momentum. The public perception of rising crime in Hayward along with the appearance of the poor lining up for free food events at Portuguese Park Giuliani Plaza, Newman Park, Library Park, and City Hall Plaza, may not exactly promote economic vitality, some members of the business community believe. A second, somewhat unrelated ordinance to be heard Tuesday also uses the rubric of public safety in hopes of abating constant property-related nuisance violations.

According to March 2013 city staff report, 6-12 food sharing operations have been identified in Hayward. Combined they serve 50-100 people daily. Seven months later, the strategy to limit use of the city parks, while ignoring the underlining reasons for the events to exist was first broached Mar. 5 by Councilmember Greg Jones. “I just want to recognize the monopolization, frankly, of a public space for a specific use,” Jones said. “That space is available to the community, not just to one particular user. When we allow that to happen we need to be careful with that because we are precluding others in the community, perhaps, from enjoying that public space.”

Later in the same Mar. 5 council meeting, Mayor Michael Sweeney had sharp words for the presence of the food sharing groups in Hayward. The comments shocked some homeless advocates for being insensitive. “I don’t mean to be a little difficult, but it seems to me if folks in Castro Valley want to feed homeless folks, maybe they should do it in Castro Valley,” said Sweeney. “I don’t know why Hayward deserves that privilege. It seems to me that if people in Castro Valley want to open up their front yard or their home in Castro Valley public spaces, that’s something they should look to do.”