SAN LEANDRO | HOMELESSNESS | Rose Padilla Johnson, the executive director of San Leandro’s Davis Street Family Resource Center, says there may be over 500 people in the city lacking suitable shelter. The typical profile of the homeless is San Leandro also reveals a dirty little secret. The homeless are not young, nor are they minorities. Instead, says Johnson, they are often white men in their 50s and 60s with nowhere immediate area to stay. The closest shelter is the Building Futures with Women and Children on Bancroft Avenue ear the Oakland border. However, as the title suggests, the facility is reserved for women and children. If you’re a man, you’re out of luck.
Male-friendly shelters exist in Oakland, Berkeley and Fremont, which leaves a gaping hole for homeless men in places like San Leandro and Hayward. Nevertheless, many men says the existing shelters are unsafe, she says, while many prefer to stay in more familiar settings “because they have roots in San Leandro they will avoid those [shelters] as much as possible.”
A similar refrain was heard late last year in Hayward, as the City Council discussed the issue of free food-sharing program in city parks, homeless advocates there also lamented the dearth of options for males down on their luck. Much of the problem is funding. From the state on down, the Great Recession forced most municipalities to snip away at all parts of their budgets, including social services for the homeless and poor. Cities like San Leandro are no different. “The sad things is the need has increased at the same time,” says Johnson.
Aside from short-term solutions such as the City of San Leandro’s donation last month of sleeping bags and tarps for homeless to keep warm, Dennis Davis, a resident and long-time advocate for the homeless says, the key is affordable housing. “The best thing to prevent people from ending up in cars is not to have three families in one household—and we all know that they’re here in San Leandro,” said Davis. “Tripling up is not the answer. The answer is an affordable place to live.”
At Monday’s first council meeting of the new year, Johnson and others urged the city to take the lead and form a task force to tackle the problem. “Leverage everything you've done and create a task force,” she said, which she envisions including the city, local clergy, safety net providers and the homeless. “Ask the people who need help because we always think we know everything,” she added. “If we don’t come up with a strategy—short-term and long-term--then guess what? Every five years we’re going to have this conversation. You all are going to be different and we aren’t.”
Despite some soft protest from Councilmember Diana Souza, who questioned whether the city’s tight budget could be further strained by such a task force, the discussion is likely to continue. San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy called for the issue to be discussed more thoroughly when its debates its priorities for the new year at a council retreat on Feb. 1. ”I think we need to talk about this in the context of our other priorities we’re looking at,” said Cassidy.