Drop-in center sought for Hayward’s homeless
By Eric Kurhi
The Oakland Tribune
Jan 3, 2009
HAYWARD — When Donna Von Behrens and David Steinmetz returned to their San Lorenzo Creek encampment one day last August and found it demolished, it felt like a kick in the face.
Their tent had been slashed, hammock cut, possessions strewed all over the hillside, and their laundry was in the water.
“That’s a step back,” Von Behrens said. “How is that supposed to help us with anything?”
It’s a common complaint within the homeless community: There’s a lack of communication about when camps will be cleared, and a disregard for possessions once it happens.
It’s often hard to even know who cleared the camp.
Take San Lorenzo Creek, which offers a number of choice clandestine campsites. It meanders through Castro Valley and Hayward, along private property and state-owned Caltrans land.
But it’s never a cost-free public campground. That’s not news to squatters.
“Maybe I shouldn’t be here,” said Jim Ebberts, who lives in a creekside tent near the Hayward-Castro Valley border. “Maybe I am trespassing, but they can tell me to leave. They have no right to come and take our belongings. My tent is my home. It may not look like your home, but it’s the same difference.”
About 40 homeless people and advocates showed up at a Hayward City Council meeting last month to voice some concerns that have been weighing heavily on their minds.
One is the need for a dialogue with local law enforcement agencies regarding their
policies on camp abatement. They want clear notification about when they need to be out, and a storage policy for possessions that are removed.
The other is the need for a 24-hour drop-in shelter — something that Sara Lamnin of the Hayward Community Action Network said could be a lifesaver.
“We lost three people on the streets this year,” Lamnin said.
Many of the homeless people at the meeting were there because the previous week Allan Ermer’s body was found on a bank next to San Lorenzo Creek.
While a cause of death has yet to be determined, temperatures dipped to near freezing the night before he was found.
“I lost one of the most gentle people I know in the creek,” Dennis Howlett told council members. “I cannot help but think that this man could be here with us today if there was a drop-in shelter for him.”
Lamnin hopes to make that a reality. Her nonprofit group, based out of the South Hayward Parish, is trying to find long-term solutions and help for the homeless population.
“We’re not looking for a safe place for people to drink,” she said. “They need a place to take a shower, wash clothes, apply for jobs and register to vote.”
Cooperation is key, Lamnin said. She is researching businesses, nonprofits, churches and government-based social services, looking into who has what to offer, and what they could receive in return.
“If I could wave a magic wand, someone would say, ‘Hey, I have this empty warehouse or auto dealership, with lots of vacant space. Instead of paying for security, instead of worrying about graffiti, I’m going to let you guys in. You’ll have a legal place to be, and in return you’re going to do site improvements and provide security.’ ”
That hasn’t happened yet, but Lamnin’s effort is just getting started. She plans to hold meetings with interested parties and see what ideas come up.
“We need to talk about what pieces we already have, and where are the gaps,” she said. “Then we need to fill in those gaps. I suspect there’s fewer gaps than we think there are.”
Sara Lamnin and the Hayward Community Action Network can be reached at 510-432-7703.