Homelessness is becoming increasingly apparent here in our hometown for more than 50 years. Camps along Fremont’s BART tracks, huddled groups of people in public parks and at the Centerville train station, shopping carts of belongings along Paseo Padre, and aging RV’s parked in the corners of neighborhood shopping centers are becoming more prevalent. Meanwhile, just down the road more than 20,000 people are employed at Tesla while increasing afternoon surface street traffic grid lock suggests that regional employment is strong. Tech families complete for multimillion dollar homes - often driving the price of homes hundreds of thousands of dollars above asking - while blocks away single parents sleep in their cars at Central Park. How did things become so disparate?
Bill Owen’s acclaimed photography book “Suburbia” was released in 1975 with pictures displaying American suburban domestic life in the East Bay and particularly Livermore where he was living at the time. When other photographers were focusing on robust city scenes or picturesque rural hamlets, Owens was aiming his camera at residents of newly built housing tracts enjoying front yard BBQ’s and folks seeking cool temperatures on lawn chairs in garages. Owens received a Guggenheim fellowship and several national arts grants for his work and is recognized as major photographer of the period with his photographs in the collections of many important museums. Bill Owens went on to open Buffalo Bill’s Brewery on B Street in Hayward in 1983, one of the first countries post prohibition brewpubs.
In the 1970’s it was still possible to purchase a new tract home in Livermore, San Lorenzo, Fremont or Hayward in the 1970’s for less than $20,000 and Harmony Homes offered a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom single car garage home built on your lot for just $5000 (We rented a Harmony Home in Hayward on Sunset Blvd for awhile for $60 month, manageable on a monthly income of $333). Housing was a given to most people with an average income in those days. But not so today when a monthly single room rental can be thousands of dollars, and when modest home purchases are increasingly measured in the millions of dollars.
There are no easy or quick solutions to providing livable wages and affordable housing to everyone seeking them and it appears to me that the national political track that we are currently on will only tend to make things worse. It’s up to us to show compassion, to support South Hayward Parish and other organizations positioned to help the homeless, and to let our leaders know that we care, and to vote for programs and policies that assist our struggling brothers and sisters.