Hayward Councilmember Greg Jones said the city
needs an emergency homeless shelter.

HAYWARD CITY COUNCIL | Homelessness in Hayward continues to be a vexing problem for its city council. While the problem exists in the city and primarily in its struggling downtown area, the council struggled to reach a consensus this week for solutions or even initial steps for its city staff to pursue.

“We’re all over the place here,” said Hayward Mayor Barbara Halliday. She acknowledged the range of suggestions from the council Tuesday evening included funding one staff member with a host of duties to serve the homeless to a broader and more collaborative strategy. “What have we accomplished tonight? I’m not sure,” Halliday said.

However, some council members found agreement for the need to fund an emergency homeless shelter. “We need to somehow find a place for these folks,” said Councilmember Greg Jones. The city needs to prioritize funding for a shelter now on their own or find partners, he added. But, most acknowledged the city’s general fund is still reeling from the last recession and allocations for items such as homeless shelters will be difficult to find. In most part, social services typically fall in the realm of the county, but some in Hayward have questioned whether the city’s $250,000 in annual funding for the homeless-related programs is enough or an efficient use of money.

Tuesday’s work session was necessitated, said Hayward City Manager Fran David, because the council lacks of clear path on the issue. “We are not about ending homelessness. It will never happen in my lifetime,” said David. “I am convinced of that.” She added the city can only strive to limit it from occurring in the future. A Hayward Taskforce on Homelessness and Hunger will begin a survey on the number of homeless in the city, said David, using a broader definition similar to the federal government. The survey is in collaboration with Cal State East Bay. In Alameda County, it is estimated more than 4,000 people are homeless, according to a staff report.

Meanwhile, few council members referenced one of the most dramatic factors leading to homelessness, that being unemployment and chronic underemployment. Halliday suggested the city institute a jobs program or volunteer work program in exchange for meal vouchers. She also reluctantly broached the idea of reconstituting shipping containers for small homes. An idea previously mentioned by Councilmember Francisco Zermeno.

The homeless and underprivileged need basic amenities and the opportunity to learn new skills, Zermeno said Tuesday evening. He offered as a small solution to reconfigure buses into showers and bathrooms for the homeless and partner with the city’s array of colleges to create food banks.

In addition, Zermeno said the city could takeover one of the abandoned homes owned by CalTrans on B Street and staff it with a single worker providing a host of services for the city’s homeless. However, in a curious statement reminiscent of Zermeno’s idea in 2013 to feed the homeless with fruit trees on city streets, he said among the services the staffer might simply be sympathy. “Do they need somebody to hug them?” Zermeno said.

“What you described sounded great,” countered Councilmember Al Mendall, “but there’s no human being on the plant that can do all that. That’s 20-30 people by my count, working full-time.” He added, “There’s no money for that.”

While acknowledging the depth of the homelessness problem in Hayward, Mendall said, “Social Services are not a core function for municipalities.” Instead, Hayward should be a partner. “It’s not realistic or sustainable to think that the city will take lead and carry it and be the one that makes things happen.”