HAYWARD -- An activist who has been pushing the city to work with community groups to open a center for the homeless expressed outrage when she learned a man who has been living on the streets died outside during the recent cold spell.
"I was furious, absolutely furious, I guess in part because we've been talking about the center and talking about it and talking about it," said Betty DeForest, director emeritus of South Hayward Parish, who fired off an angry note to the City Council on Monday night.
"Could someone give me the acceptable 'collateral damage' figure for death on the street or just plain human misery before we take action?" DeForest asked in her email.
Joseph John White, 50, of Hayward, was found dead Sunday morning behind a Safeway store on Foothill Boulevard in the northern part of the city. White, dressed in a T-shirt, light jacket, shorts and sneakers, was one of six homeless men who have died in Alameda County and the South Bay as temperatures have dropped at night to below freezing.
The four deaths in the South Bay were blamed on hypothermia, but not that of White and a man whose body was found Friday afternoon in the 1000 block of Village Parkway in downtown Dublin. Causes of death for White and the unidentified man in Dublin are still being investigated.
DeForest decried the fact that Hayward has no emergency shelter for single men.
"There is a pretty good chance that a center would have known if Joe did not have adequate clothing/blankets to survive a freezing night," DeForest wrote in her email.
A total of 4,264 people are homeless in Alameda County, according to a survey taken this spring. About 60 percent of those are sleeping on sidewalks, in parks or wherever they can find a place, but not inside the shelters, the report by EveryOne Home said.
DeForest and the South Hayward Parish, along with other church groups, have gone before the council to ask for an indoor center that would distribute food and clothing to the homeless and, possibly, provide emergency shelter.
The council has responded, most recently in October, by asking city staff to work with the group to establish the center, but council members have said the city has no money to run it.
Most of the grant money available for homeless assistance is focused on first getting people into permanent housing and then attacking what caused them to be on the streets, said Kelly McAdoo, assistant city manager.
"Federal funding has been focused on getting people into stabilized housing and helping them deal with some of the underlying causes of homeless, as opposed to temporary solutions," McAdoo said.
White, in fact, was on track to secure permanent housing, according to his girlfriend, Joanna Lobato, who also is homeless.
DeForest said she agrees with getting homeless people into housing, but said it's not a solution for everyone.
"But what happens to the people who don't qualify or are waiting for units that don't exist?" she said. "What happens is they die on the street. We have to do something else in addition to rapid rehousing."
McAdoo said that if the indoor service center does come to fruition, it could take years. "It's not a short-term solution," she said. Hayward is encouraging faith-based organizations and service providers to work together in the interim to find some temporary solutions, she said.
DeForest said most of the congregations in South Hayward have small congregations and limited resources. Opening a shelter would require money to pay an overnight staff person to maintain security, she said. "Then what do you do? Invite people to come in and ask them to sleep on the floor? We would need cots, blankets and other supplies," she said.
Councilman Francisco Zermeno, a member of the Task Force to End Hunger and Homelessness in Hayward, said he is calling a meeting Friday with South Hayward Parish and other churches to see if they can pool resources to open at least a small shelter during the cold weather.
"We have all types of churches, but not enough money for one church to do it alone," he said.
Zermeno said he will be at the Pancho Villa Event Center, 1026 B St., from 2 to 7 p.m. Saturday accepting donations of blankets and warm clothing for the homeless.
"It's not a lot, but it's something," he said. "Something needs to be done."