Hayward Homeless Food-Sharing Ordinance Falls Flat in Council

Volunteers of the South Hayward Parish prepares for their food pantry that serves low-income residents.

The city council failed to take significant action on a contentious permitting process the city planned to enforce on food-sharing events.

Currently food-sharing events do not require a permit. Churches in Hayward like the All Saints Church and the South Hayward Parish formed the Hayward Community Action Network to address the food needs of the city. The city wants to add extra steps and restrictions to putting on these events, which has frustrated faith communities and social workers in the city.

“Jesus did not need a permit to feed the poor,” said Ramon Rios-Rojado, a social worker who hands out food at Portuguese Park during food-sharing events. More than 30 people came to the meeting, evoking religious imagery and making an emotional appeal to the council.

The city wants to require these groups to get a permit before holding these events. The proposed pilot program would require groups to have insurance and to place a $500 deposit when requesting a permit for an event. The main reason for this is the liability it faces surrounding the cleanliness and safety of food and injuries that could occur at these events. The city is afraid these situations will lead to lawsuits.

City Manager Fran David stated that there was not an issue of the city not being concerned about the homeless. Rather there is a “philosophical difference” between what the social workers want and what the city wants.  The city wants to assure housing and rehabilitation for the homeless as a priority, while others want to focus on direct action on the street, David said, which is where there are differences.

Some community members spoke in favor of restrictions. Ben Schweng the owner of Cyclepath, a bike shop in the downtown area, said that homeless “transients” have gone from defecating on his wall to setting his trashcans on fire.

“They’re either disruptive, abusive or just down right creepy to my female staff members,” Schweng said.

On September 12, a man came into his shop and stole a bicycle. Schweng chased him down and wrestled the bike out of his hands. In the process, he broke one of his ribs and was bitten in his arm and has had to take antibiotics because of it.

Volunteers of the South Hayward Parish prepares for
their food pantry that serves low-income residents.

“It feels with my other fellow merchants like we’re losing the battle this summer,” Schweng said. “It’s been rough, and it’s hard to operate a business, and do all of that.”

Both groups found common ground in their desire to set up a central indoor food-sharing site to provide for the homeless. Mayor Sweeney encouraged the groups to apply for federal funds to build the structure, and to fundraise.

Sweeney cited Hayward’s history of supporting the homeless, and pointed to Livermore, Castro Valley and Alameda as cities that don’t provide sufficient rehabilitation services to its residents.

Kevin Valley spent a year of his life living in a tent on the side of a freeway. He said that he was able to put his life back on track after he went to an outdoor food-sharing event hosted by a faith-based organization.

“I need you to look into your hearts. This is the ‘heart of the Bay.’ It’s time to start looking into your hearts, and not into your head,” Valley said to the council in an emotional speech.

The city ultimately decided not to pass the ordinance, choosing instead to review it again at a later date and make revisions. Councilmember Greg Jones pushed for a limit on the number of events a group can book at a city park per year, stating, “intent is not to monopolize use of the parks by one provider.”

Councilmember Barbara Halliday admitted that the ordinance is “very narrow” and will not solve the problems downtown as the result of the homeless.

“Homeless and hungry people run the gamut from very responsible people who are just down on their luck right now and just need a meal to get by, to people who truly should not be out on their own on the street because they’re a menace to the public health,“ said Halliday.

Planning Commissioner Sara Lamnin, who has spearheaded the movement in opposition of the ordinance in spite of her position on within the city said she was “really delighted” with the decision.

“Absolutely it’s not the city’s problem alone to solve, and that’s what we’ve been saying is rather than make decisions in a vacuum work with us, we’re ready to help, we need you to carry it forward, and I heard that really loudly from the council so I’m really pleased with that.”

The council will meet to discuss the ordinance once more at a later unspecified date.