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Mike O'Laughlin, senior golf course caretaker, finds evidence of a homeless camp on the land behind the Mission Hills Driving Range in Hayward, Calif., that the Hayward Recreation and Park District is clearing on Friday, Sept. 13, 2013. The land, flanked by railroad and BART tracks, was populated by thick shrubbery and has long been occupied by homeless encampments. The park district is hoping that clearing the brush away will discourage future encampments. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

HAYWARD -- The park district is clearing an overgrown area behind a South Hayward golf driving range that had become a magnet for the homeless, with 10 people living there at last count.

Those camping at the site near Mission Boulevard and Industrial Parkway were contacted before work began this past week, said John Gouveia, general manager of Hayward Area Recreation and Park District, or HARD.

"We have been working with South Hayward Parish. We are trying to handle the situation as delicately and compassionately as we can," he said. "But it was unsanitary, and we can't have that going on."

Giving the homeless advance notice is important, said Sara Lamnin of Hayward Community Action Network, which is part of South Hayward Parish.

"The challenge is to let people know the clearing out is coming," she said. "We've had people lose housing applications, Social Security cards and other documents because they didn't know this morning was when the site was going to be cleared."

Hayward Community Action Network is a nonprofit organization dedicated to getting people into permanent housing and helping them become self-sufficient.

"If you know you're going to abate an area, let us know and we can notify the people," she said.

The property is close to houses, and City Councilman Al Mendall said neighbors had reported an increase in crimes in the past six to 12 months. "I've been hearing about minor crimes, stealing bikes off lawns, taking things out of cars, that sort of thing," he said.

Lamnin said it's not clear the increase in crimes was related to the encampment, but that was the neighbors' fear.

"We want to address the concerns of the neighbors, plus address the needs of the community of homeless," she said.

Most of the homeless had left by the time Community Action Network workers surveyed the area. "We only found one site that was occupied," Lamnin said.

The agency connects the homeless with available services, though she noted that the city does not have enough shelters. "In Hayward, there are no single adult shelters unless somebody has severe mental illness or is a victim of abuse," she said.

The district first started noticing the encampment and getting complaints from nearby residents about six months ago, Gouveia said.

"It may have been there off and on for years as the vegetation grew," he said. "The area probably has not been touched in 15 years."

HARD workers have done periodic cleanups of the 1.5-acre area, including one in June, but realized the area needed a major clearing. At the board's Aug. 26 meeting, HARD directors allocated $19,300 to prune trees; take out saplings; remove any hazardous waste connected with the homeless camp; cut back weeds, poison oak and grass; and remove heavy brush, litter and debris.

The district will then need to figure out a long-term use for it so the camps don't return, Gouveia said.

Access to the site is a challenge, Mendall said. "Opening it up to the public is probably not doable," he said. He suggested a tree farm as a possible use.

But first, the site is being cleared.

"We need to see what's there," said Dan Giammona, HARD manager of golf operations. "We may not even know what's back there until it's cleaned up."

The site was used as a staging area during construction of the Mission Hills of Hayward Golf Course and Driving Range.

"There's all kinds of mounds and dirt. We don't really know what's under there," Gouveia said. "Are they going to find concrete blocks of rebar?"

Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473. Follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.