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November 25, 2009 > Clarion call to combat community violence, health disparities and homelessness

Clarion call to combat community violence, health disparities and homelessness

By Simon Wong

The Heart of the Bay Summit at Cal State University East Bay on November 7 saw the birth of a new movement in Hayward to address issues of violence, access to healthcare and homelessness.

Spearheaded by South Hayward Parish's Community Action Network (CAN), the objective is not to replace city, county or other non-profits' services but for agencies to collaborate and combine their strengths to achieve more efficient and effective delivery of solutions to social problems.

"The economic downturn has seen a decline in funding. Applications for what little grant monies are available, are extremely competitive so we need to join forces to complement and augment existing services,' explained Sara Lamnin, CAN Program Director. "Moreover, different agencies try to achieve the same thing with their own modus operandi and qualifying criteria for clients. Grant funding is often conditional."

The conference was a revelation. The majority of people affected by the issues discussed at the summit have lived in Hayward for many years, far longer than many recipients of other better-organized, local assistance.


Violence

The South Hayward Neighborhood Collaborative (SoHNC), a group of residents, community leaders, public agencies and organizations working together to improve the quality of life in South Hayward for families and children since 1993, presented the findings of its "My Voice Counts" survey, conducted from May to August 2009.

Violence threatens residents' sense of safety, health and well-being. Neighborhood violence is most prevalent on the streets, at Tennyson Park and near local stores (liquor stores, particularly). Fighting and vandalism are of greatest concern followed by gangs and bullying. Youth and young adults are the most likely victims.

Gangs/turf wars, alcohol use/abuse, drug sales/use, financial hardship and unemployment are the main causes of violence.

SoHNC wishes to work with stakeholders - residents, families, community organizations, police, schools and City government - to address the causes and ameliorate the effects of violence. The collaborative wants to support and implement policies and strategies for more income support and job creation, more students to remain in secondary school and progress to further education, more youth-violence prevention and intervention activities, gang-prevention and policing of drugs.

Community Prevention of alcohol-related problems (CommPre) and SoHNC have partnered with others to improve lighting and security at Tennyson Park.

For more information about the South Hayward Neighborhood Collaborative, contact Sharan Aminy on (510) 300 3146 or at SAminy@LaFamiliaCounselling.org.


Health Disparities and Tobacco Use

CAN interviewed visitors to Hayward's Downtown-area street parties.

Of the 164 people surveyed in June, 24 percent smoke, 37 percent do not and 39 percent are former smokers. Almost half (46 percent) took up the habit to "fit in, because it was the thing to do or thought it was cool/fun." More than half (52 percent) started "to relieve stress, out of curiosity, because family members smoked, it felt good, it was part of another activity or a substitute for another activity." Some claimed "stupidity or could not remember."

In July and August, researchers found 292 of the street party participants questioned were unaware and 176 knew of the No Smoking Ordinance in the City and Parks.

Tobacco smoke contains toxic metals, poisonous gases and carcinogens. Secondhand smoke, alone, has more than 4,000 chemicals. Chromium, arsenic, lead, cadmium, toluene, ammonia, butane, hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, vinyl chloride, polomium-210, benzene and formaldehyde are some of the substances that combine for smoothness and induce a sense of well-being for smokers.

According to the California Department of Public Health, more people gave up smoking when prohibited in both the workplace and at home (13 percent) than when a ban exists in either place (10.5 percent) than in the absence of any constraints (5.2 percent).

The incidence of smoking among the homeless is almost 70 percent compared to approximately 15 percent within the general California population.

Street-party attendees' perception of what Hayward needs is telling. A third (33 percent) cited a water park. More funding for schools (16 percent), bowling facilities (14 percent), a skating rink (13 percent) and family diner (11 percent). Only 13 percent feel a homeless resource center is important.


Homelessness and Commerce/Services Needed

An invisible population is particularly susceptible to psychological and physical violence and has limited access to healthcare. This segment of the community, usually neglected, forgotten and marginalized, does not have the support services it needs.

What does a homeless person look like? Unkempt, disheveled, inebriated, drugged, unwashed... the stereotype does not fit. About a third of the summit's delegates are homeless in Hayward where they have lived for many years, far longer than many recipients of better-organized local assistance. Ninety percent of CAN's clients are Hayward residents. More than three-quarters of the City's population is male (77 percent).

Gary, dressed in collar and tie, pressed suit and polished shoes, was not the CEO of a multi-national. Donna clad in blouse, black trousers and long cardigan moved gracefully about the room and was not a local businesswoman who owned a camp site. In fact, her tent and possessions were confiscated when moved on by the authorities. Nobody knows they are homeless unless they disclose the fact.

Different countries have their own official definitions of homelessness, which may vary even between regions within a country, but along with high unemployment, poor mental health and/or the lack of appropriate care, addiction, population growth, no family or friends and a lack of skills and choice, it is a root cause of hunger. The cost of living/real estate and lack of shelter and housing in modern times is a primary cause of homelessness but the latter connects with many of the causes of hunger in a vicious circle.

A coordinated delivery of services for everyone is more likely to break that cycle than the disparate provision of services by a multitude of agencies, including the City of Hayward which provides social-services and community-development-block-grant funding. Clients complain of constant referral between agencies unable to help.

A "one-stop shop" in the form of a collaborative resource center offering amenities, such as communal kitchen services, legal and medical services, life skills training, counseling, restrooms/showers and laundry, vocational services... has great social value. How soon violence subsides, how soon everyone has access to preventative and curative healthcare, and how soon the dispossessed return to the heart of the community depends on everyone's willingness to engage in Hayward CAN's goal of provision through collaboration.


For more information about the Hayward Community Action Network, visit http://HaywardCAN/Weebly.com, call (510) 432-7703 or email Sara Lamnin at SaraLamnin@sbcglobal.net.

Donations (checks payable to South Hayward Parish and noted Hayward CAN) can be sent to Hayward Community Action Network, Westminster Hills Presbyterian Church, 27287 Patrick Avenue, Hayward, CA 94542.

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