HAYWARD -- While delaying a vote on an ordinance to require permits to feed the homeless at downtown parks, the City Council has directed staff members to work with the community to come up with a plan for moving the feeding indoors.
About six to 12 groups, some informal and some representing churches, feed the hungry and homeless at the parks on a regular basis. Merchants and residents have complained about behavior and trash problems they blame on the gatherings, which attract 50 to 100 people.
But, residents told the council Tuesday night, permits will not solve the problems, and the focus should instead be on opening an indoor center to provide not only meals but also counseling, showers and restrooms.
The council agreed a center is needed, but Mayor Michael Sweeney said it needs to be community-based and not run by the city.
"Let's be honest: This is not a new issue," he said. "It's time we make progress on both sides of the fence."
The ordinance would require anyone handing out food at city parks downtown to get a permit. There would be no charge for the permit for a year under the pilot program, though charitable groups would have to pay a $500 refundable deposit for any cleanup or repairs, if needed. Also, they would need to provide proof of insurance and compliance with Alameda County's regulations on food preparation and handling.
The council asked for some wording changes in the proposed ordinance before it comes back for a vote.
Hayward is not trying to eliminate food distribution to the homeless but wants to ensure that it is done responsibly, assistant city manager Kelly McAdoo told the council.
"We realize this is not going to solve all the problems downtown," she said.
Even though there would be no charge for the permit, some of those who hand out food told the council the other costs are too high.
"I, for one, cannot afford the $1,500 to $3,000 needed to buy insurance to do a good deed," said Kevin Valley, of Hayward. The formerly homeless man credited an outdoor feeding program with helping him and said he now helps others by handing out food.
"I am expected to purchase insurance to be a decent human being, sign a 'hold harmless' agreement with the city, pay a refundable deposit to the city and have my kitchen certified. My funds will be tapped," he said.
The city receives a lot of calls about public nuisances, illegal behavior, human waste, trash and debris at the parks, especially Portuguese Park on Foothill Boulevard, according to the staff report.
A woman who lives near the park said most food distributors she has encountered have been fantastic, but problems do occur, including debris, overflowing trash cans that attract rodents and urine-soaked clothing left nearby.
"I have been threatened and have had to ask people to not defecate on my back fence," Elizabeth Murdock said.
The proposed ordinance is not intended to address homelessness but rather regulate behavior on city property and reduce liability risks, Councilwoman Barbara Halliday said.
The city needs to address merchants' concerns, said Councilman Greg Jones. Many businesses have moved out of downtown because of the problems associated with the homeless, he said. No one ordinance is a total solution, he said.
"This isn't the end; this is the beginning of an attempt to resolve the problems," Jones said.
The focus needs to stay on finding a location for people to be fed indoors and have access to showers and other services, former Councilwoman Doris Rodriquez said.
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.