HAYWARD -- The city's only emergency overnight shelter for adults opened Monday, with five people coming in from the cold, and organizers expected it to reach capacity Tuesday night.
It was the death of a homeless man in December when temperatures dropped below freezing that spurred residents and several local churches to open the shelter. Joe White, 50, was found dead behind a Safeway store on Foothill Boulevard.
"The fact that someone in our city would die of hypothermia because there was no way to get out of the cold just left people in a state of shock," said Betty DeForest, a board member at New Bridges Presbyterian Church, which took the lead in starting the shelter. "The response was: What on earth do we do? What does it take to do a winter shelter?"
Organizers gathered blankets and single sheets and bought sleeping mats. New Bridges offered its outreach center for the shelter, which can accommodate 20. While there are Hayward shelters for families and abused women, the shelter on Patrick Avenue is the only one that takes adult men and women without children, DeForest said.
Jerome Hunt was one of those who slept at the shelter its first night. "It was very warm, and the people were respectful. I'm very appreciative," he said. The 53-year-old man had spent a cold night in the rain Sunday.
"I'm homeless, and I sleep outside on a piece of cardboard and a sleeping bag. When it rains, I get wet. That's how I get sick; I get sick when it rains," he said.
Hunt, who has been homeless for about six years, said he planned to be at the shelter Tuesday night.
"Oh, you better believe it. Definitely," he said.
The shelter will be open only when the low temperature is expected to be 36 degrees or below or heavy rain is forecast. Monday's low was forecast at 36 degrees, though it did not get that cold, DeForest said. The shelter did not open Sunday night because the forecast had been for showers, not the rain that fell, she said.
"We need 24 hours to let everybody know we're going to be open," said Sara Lamnin, of Community Action Network, an organization helping the homeless.
The Hayward forecast is for low temperatures in the 40s Wednesday and Friday, with a 70 percent chance of showers Thursday and a 60 percent chance of rain Saturday. The shelter will not be open Wednesday night, and organizers will decide later whether to open other nights this week, DeForest said.
In addition to an indoor place to sleep, the shelter offers a soup dinner and breakfast. The operation relies on volunteers to prepare food, do laundry and staff it from 5:30 to 11:30 p.m. and 6 to 8 a.m. Paid workers trained in security monitor the shelter overnight.
The shelter is accepting donations of bedding and cash at South Hayward Parish, 27287 Patrick Ave. Checks should be made out to The Joe White Movement, Lamnin said. "Joe is what got everybody together," she said.
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.