Homeless population occupies Downtown Hayward

Louis LaVenture,

When the City of Hayward opened the new downtown loop in 2014, this is not what officials had in mind.

Just a block away from the $105 million renovation project labeled as a traffic solution lies two of the biggest eyesores in the entire city: The old Hayward Centennial Hall and the bankrupt Mervyn’s headquarters, which are across the street from each other on Foothill Boulevard near A Street in the heart of downtown.

The two buildings have become havens for the Hayward homeless population, which has taken over both structures. Doors and windows are broken out on both structures that give easy and quick access to its residents. It looks like a scene out of “The Walking Dead;” glass and trash everywhere with an eerie empty feeling, but the buildings aren’t empty–in fact they are full.

Hayward Police Sergeant Ryan Cantrell said that people do access the buildings and that the police department coordinates with the buildings’ owners to get the tenants out of the structures and reinforce them with boards and fences. Cantrell said the HPD enforces trespassing laws when the situation calls for it and sporadic searches of the properties are made in order to keep the buildings empty.

However, several inhabitants of the two properties say that it is much more than just a roof over their heads; it is a means to financial security.

“These buildings are full of copper, do you know how much that is worth?” Alessandro Venegas said. “I don’t live here, I work here.”

Venegas said he has been homeless since 2014; however, he resides in the streets of East Oakland and comes to Hayward to collect recyclables and buy drugs. After a night of drinking, Venegas said he was stopped by an Alameda County Sheriff who told him to go to one of the two buildings if he needed a place to stay. He said after he woke up he realized the place was still full of copper pipes and wires that command a hefty price on the recycling market. According to Fry’s Metals in Hayward, the price for recycled cop- per can be more than $2 per pound, a risk Venegas found worth taking.

“I could make a $1,000 in a couple hours easy,” Venegas said. “Cops don’t come there late at night, it’s the perfect time to strip the building.”

Venegas said authorities weren’t the only risk; other residents and people looking to claim scrap metals can be a problem as well. He said one night while stripping copper wires from the ceiling with his cousin, a man threatened them with a knife and told them to get out of his building or he would kill them.

Local businesses have noticed the impact of their new neighbors as well. Stores like the Cobbler, Round Table Pizza, Selix Tuxedos and Cyclepath Schwinn Bicycles are adjacent to both properties and several employees have noticed the homeless presence. Several employees said when the police do the “evictions” the presence is noticeable in the downtown area.