Click photo to enlarge
Dale Burdick, of Hayward, unloads food from the back of his truck to feed the homeless at Portuguese Park, in Hayward, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2010. The director of outreach for the Hayward Church of the Nazerene visits the park with a group of volunteers every Wednesday to serve food rain or shine 52 weeks a year. (Anda Chu/Staff)

HAYWARD -- The city may soon require permits for free food handouts in downtown parks, which business owners and residents have complained attract people who trash the areas and frighten away customers.

"We want to find more respectful and dignified ways to run these programs," said Kelly McAdoo, Hayward assistant city manager. "We want a balance. We want to care for folks, and we also need to protect our residents and businesses from any bad behavior."

As proposed, permits would be required to hand out free food in five downtown locations -- Portuguese, Newman and Library parks and Giuliani and City Hall plazas. Most of the food is handed out at Portuguese Park on Foothill Boulevard.

Those applying for a permit would be required to provide proof of compliance with public health regulations for food preparation and handling, show proof of insurance and pay of a permit fee.

How much a fee would cost is still being worked out, said David Korth, Hayward's neighborhood services manager.

"We're not looking to make a profit," he said. The amount would cover costs associated with the permits, and the city also is considering a refundable deposit for cleaning or repairs related to the meal handouts.

The food handouts attract 50 to 100 people, Korth said, and the city regularly receives complaints of trash, vandalism, theft, trespassing, unruly and aggressive behavior and people relieving themselves before and after the meals.

But issuing permits is not the solution, said Sara Lamnin, executive director of South Hayward Parish's Community Action Network, which works to get people into housing and help people become self-sufficient.

"Everybody understands there needs to be some fix, but starting with a permit process doesn't address the concerns that the community has expressed nor the reason the meal programs exist in the first place," she said.

CAN and other community groups have long pushed for a central indoor site where those in need could not only receive food but also other services, such as access to showers and bathrooms, counseling, housing and job training.

Lamnin expressed frustration on the lack of progress in getting such a center and said she was concerned that if the city requires permits, people will think the problem is taken care of.

"Just doing this permitting thing doesn't get us anywhere; there are better solutions," she said. "The idea of a center was first proposed in 2007. Let's go."

The city is working on both food handout permits and an indoor site, Korth said.

"The idea of a centralized center is still very much in the works," he said. "The two big hurdles: where, and who's going to pay for it."

He credited Lamnin for researching possible sites throughout Hayward.

"No matter where you stand on this issue, the one area everybody gets behind conceptually is it would be better to have at least one indoor location in which not only food would be provided, but also other support services benefiting people," Korth said.

The proposed ordinance is scheduled to go before the City Council on Oct. 1. If the council approves the measure, it will go into effect in November.

"The permit is a very small piece of a bigger picture to address homelessness and hunger," Korth said.

Hayward Outdoor food sharing ordinance
Hayward staff members will discuss the proposed ordinance and take comments at a community meeting.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Hayward City Hall, Room 2A, 777 B St.