Homeless encampments populate Hayward

Shoib Ahmadzai,

Two frustrated Hayward residents at a city council meeting sought action regarding the trespassing, vandalism, litter, and defecation from the homeless and mentally ill people camping in areas of the city.

“We realized it wasn’t a one-person problem, it was a problem for all of us,” said JoAnn Cola, one of the two people that spoke about the issue at the city council meeting on Sept. 26.

Cola, a lifelong Hayward resident, stated the issue started small near A, 4th and B Streets In Hayward “around five years ago.” As time went by, the issue began to escalate with the homeless camping in backyards, which made residents uncomfortable.

Residents who live in Cola’s neighborhood have homes that border the city’s county line along the San Lorenzo creek. Many of the homeless live in this unincorporated area, camping out along the creek, reported Cola. Because of the creek, many Hayward residents do not have fences on their properties, giving easier access to the homeless to trespass through the creek.

Alameda County has seen a considerable increase, 39 percent, in homeless people over the past two years. Over 4,000 homeless people were counted in 2015 and had increased to over 5,600 people counted in 2017, reports KQED in an article published in May 2017.

In 2014, the Hayward Centennial Hall and the Mervyn’s headquarters, both located in Foothill Boulevard near A Street, were closed down and became. The Pioneer reported

“Our properties consist of one parcel within the city of Hayward and another that is in the unincorporated county,” Cola told The Pioneer. “Almost all of us have had things stolen from our yards. Toys, outdoor furniture, things that were left outside.”

Following up on her complaint, the city had some Hayward Police officers go to her neighborhood to escort the homeless out, who Cola praised for their work and quick response.

“It’s just been horrible,” added Linda Bennett, another lifelong Hayward resident who came to the council meeting to address the homeless issue. “There’s litter everywhere.” Bennett expressed her frustration with the homeless issue, stating that it has had a negative impact on her business as a marriage counseling therapist, affecting her clients. She even stated that a homeless person defecated in the basement of the building she worked at.

Despite this, the homeless epidemic is not as severe in Hayward as it is in other Bay Area cities. With a population of over 150,000, Hayward only reported to have 0.28 percent of its total population fall under the category of homelessness, according to a 2014 Alameda Countywide Homeless Count and Survey authorized by the county and conducted by Aspire Consulting LLC. in association with the EveryOne Home organization, as previously reported by The Pioneer.

Residents began to tackle the issue through their neighborhood watch program. Cola reported she sent emails to city council members and Mayor Barbara Halliday, writing that her grandchildren found drug syringes in both her patio and backyard.

On Aug. 1, there was an arson in Stafford Ave. in Hayward, which both Cola and Bennett mentioned that the house was known to house homeless people. Bennett believes that there could be a possible connection between the homeless residents and the fire.

“Nobody is lacking in compassion,” insisted Bennett. She brought up that she once worked at a homeless shelter and empathized with the harshness of not having a home. However, she added that the issue is a nuisance for taxpayers.

She provided multiple photos at the council meeting of stolen shopping carts loaded with bags and other belongings, tents camped out by the creeks and piles of litter.

“We’re aware of the problem,” said Council Member Marvin Peixoto.

Halliday claimed that the city is making an effort to the fix homeless issue and that it will “take effort from all of us.”

“We understand that homelessness is a difficult issue and we are not heartless,” Cola told The Pioneer. “We do have compassion, but as residents we can’t possibly solve the social problems ourselves. What we see are the pretty ‘hard core’ homeless with substance abuse problems and/or mental illness.”