HAYWARD CITY COUNCIL | When it comes to helping the poor, WWHD?

By unanimously passing an ordinance Tuesday night placing restrictions on free food-sharing groups that feed the poor in city parks, the Hayward City Council sided with concerns voiced by its downtown merchants, who complained loudly about unruly behavior they believe stems from the small-scale events. Advocates for the poor, however, say although some will go hungry because of the decision, the charitable groups can still reorganize around the new permitting and insurance regulations along with renewed efforts for a much-desired indoor kitchen dedicated to feeding the city’s poor.

Pastor Chuck Horner of the Hayward’s Calvary Baptist Church voiced support for the ordinance Tuesday night. When asked afterward if the ordinance jibed with the teachings of Jesus Christ to care for the less fortunate, Horner said, “Jesus also said to be at peace with all of the governors and kings,” meaning, the alleged aggressive behavior by some of food-sharing customers is a sin against the savior’s teaching. “Businesses are taking a hit,” said Horner, who is also associated with the Hayward Chamber of Commerce. “They need help.” In addition, Horner says the free food-sharing events are demeaning to the poor. “It’s just not humane to feed people in the streets.”

Sara Lamnin, a homeless activist in Hayward, says three things may occur following Tuesday’s decision: meal providers will move to less-desirable, harder to reach locations for attracting hungry customers or the 12 or so known food-sharing groups will adapt to the new regulations. Some may even close up shop, Lamnin fears. In fact, she says one provider, who characterizes his one-man operation as his “ministry,” told Lamnin the new costs association with feeding the poor is too onerous and expensive for him to continue. “He just a single person who gets donations and makes bologna sandwiches and hands them out,” Lamnin said. “He probably spends a half-hour to an hour doing it and leaves.”

The ordinance, however, has clearly brought attention to the issue of poverty in Hayward in the public consciousness. “There needs to be a catalyst and I think this is it,” Lamnin said, while also adding the City Council has now voiced overwhelming support for a dedicated center to feed the poor, “We’ve been asking the city for this for a long time,” she says.

Although the issue of homelessness in Hayward was somewhat conflated into the argument in favor of the ordinance—in fact, someone in need of food is not necessarily homeless or even unemployed—Tuesday’s discussion revealed surprising inequities for how aid is distributed. Long-time Hayward activist Betty Deforest said she did not plan on speaking at Tuesday’s meeting until a city staff member’s trumpeting of the number of homeless shelters that exist in Hayward, compelled her to provide clarity to the statement. DeForest noted not one of them accept men.

In fact, although there are eight housing-first options for the homeless in Hayward, there are none for those under the age of 62. Over 18,000 Hayward residents are identified as earning income below the federal poverty line, according to the U.S.Census. Furthermore, their average age is just 45, which leaves a large group of people without much of a safety net. And while the city says it helped the effort to feed the poor by allocating $78,000 in city funds this fiscal year, simple math shows the aid is paltry and represents just $3.91 annually per impoverished resident.

Will the ordinance aimed at cleaning up the city’s moribund downtown make a difference in helping the poor? “We’ll see,” says Lamnin, but she is hopeful. “We could have the stone soup idea that everybody brings something to table, but if we all stay together, I believe we can do more without spending any more money.”