HAYWARD -- Free food handouts attract up to 100 people several times a week to various outdoor sites downtown, and the city is trying to figure out how to get a handle on problems the gatherings can cause.
One proposal Hayward is considering is changing its zoning ordinance to require permits, an idea that did not sit well with several people who spoke before the City Council on Tuesday during a workshop to discuss how to regulate the outdoor feedings.
"I don't believe any such ordinance will make anyone less hungry," said Marcy Timberman, of Hayward.
The city has received complaints of litter, debris, trespassing, human waste, aggressive behavior and fights at the food sites, and residents say people camp out at the sites, and in downtown garbage bins, in store fronts and alcoves, and along San Lorenzo Creek.
The food is being distributed mostly by people who are religiously motivated, but not officially representing a church, David Korth, city neighborhood services manager, said Monday. Earlier food programs by churches and nonprofit groups have moved indoors or been discontinued, he said.
Betty DeForest, executive director of the South Hayward Parish, said she hoped the city and the newly formed Task Force to End Hunger and Homelessness in Hayward could work together on solutions. Some speakers urged the city to focus on a centralized center that would have an indoor kitchen, plus provide other social services such as counseling.
"It's demeaning. No one should have to receive their food on a corner," DeForest said.
Most of the food is distributed at Portuguese Park on Foothill Boulevard at C Street, which the city has to clean up every year before the Festival of the Holy Spirit is held at the nearby I.D.E.S. hall, Councilman Marvin Peixoto said.
"That park is a source of great pride to the Portuguese community. We put a lot of work into it," he said.
Permits would let the city know when and where the food is being distributed, said Councilman Greg Jones.
Mayor Michael Sweeney said he would support requiring a permit, as did most council members, though several recommended that any required fee be low.
"I don't think there are any magic wands out there," Sweeney said. "I raised questions six or seven years ago. We haven't made a lot of progress."
Councilwoman Barbara Halliday said that while the city was compassionate, there were competing interests.
"We've been trying to attract people to our downtown. But some have the perception that our downtown is not safe," she said.
"There has to be some balance, there have to be rules," Halliday said.
The council will revisit the food distribution question later this spring.
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.