Fremont City Council Votes on Downtown Location for Housing Navigation Center – NBC Bay Area

Fremont City Council Votes on Downtown Location for Housing Navigation Center - NBC Bay Area
Hundreds jam Fremont council meeting ahead of homeless navigation center decision
After hearing from hundreds of people at a special meeting Tuesday night, the Fremont City Council voted to put the controversial Housing Navigation Center behind the City Hall in downtown Fremont.

The goal of the meeting, which is only the latest in a series of meetings on the controversial center, was to decide between two proposed sites for the navigation center. One proposed site was downtown, behind the City Hall. The other site was on Decoto Road.

At a previous meeting on the topic, people from three camps showed up to voice their opinions: those that opposed the Decoto Road site, those that opposed the downtown site and those that supported a navigation center at either site.

Those that opposed a site at either location in past meetings had safety concerns about the site being in one particular area or another. Some that opposed the downtown site specifically cited a recent incident involving a homeless man attacking a resident in a building lobby in the Embarcadero in San Francisco.

“Of course, we want to pay extra attention to safety and how much it’s going to affect the downtown area,” the resident said.

But those that opposed the other choice, a site on Decoto Road, felt that it would bring danger to that area instead. Some felt that an industrial area might be a better location.

“From Berkeley and Oakland, they put it in an industrial area and right now from their data it seems successful,” said a Fremont resident who opposed the Decoto road site.

Kimberly Petersen, the Fremont police chief, pointed out that homeless people are already in Fremont regardless of where the navigation center will be.

“We’re not bringing them here, they’re already here,” she said. “These beds are going to be dedicated specifically to people recruited from the streets around the center.”

Ming Sun, of Fremont, speaks Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, at the Fremont City Council meeting, urging the council to place the city's first homeless navigation center at a parking lot behind city hall. (Joseph Geha/Bay Area News Group)

Members of the Fremont City Council listen as a person speaks about the location of the city's first ever homeless navigation center at a meeting on Sept. 10, 2019. (Joseph Geha/Bay Area News Group)

Hundreds of people lined up outside Fremont City Hall Tuesday evening, in anticipation of voicing their opinions about the citys first planned homeless navigation center, an issue that has stirred significant debate in the largely affluent East Bay suburb. (Joseph Geha/Bay Area News Group)

People wearing shirt that have the words No HNC in Fremont and Little Help Big Waste printed on the back are seen the Fremont City Council meeting on Sept. 10, 2019. (Joseph Geha/Bay Area News Group)

Groups of people holding signs and posters expressing their views on Fremont's planned homeless navigation center are seen behind television news station reporters broadcasting from Fremont City Hall's parking lot on Sept. 10, 2019. (Joseph Geha/Bay Area News Group)

Groups of people hold up signs and posters expressing their views on Fremont's planned homeless navigation center as television news station reporters broadcast from in front of them in Fremont City Hall's parking lot on Sept. 10, 2019. (Joseph Geha/Bay Area News Group)

The council vote was unanimous, and came after months of discussion and debate, including public workshops and at times raucous meetings.

Most of the council said they supported the city hall parking lot location, in the heart of the city’s budding downtown, because it’s close to health and support services, transportation options like BART and bus lines, grocery stores and potential employers for homeless people.

Some councilmembers including Rick Jones also urged residents to show sympathy for those who are homeless, as there are many people barely getting by in the pricey Bay Area.

“Its just not going to take that much for somebody to suffer an economic setback and end up on the street,” he said at the meeting.

“It could be your coworker, it could be a family member, it could be one of your childs schoolmates,” Jones said.

You all have nice places, you all have good jobs, there are a lot of people less fortunate that are in desperate need of your help, and this is a way to do it,” he told the crowd.

Hundreds of people lined up outside City Hall Tuesday evening, in anticipation of voicing their opinions about the center, which has stirred significant debate in the largely affluent East Bay suburb where the average home sale price is around $1 million.

In July, the council narrowed the possible locations for the center to two pieces of city-owned property — a parking lot behind city hall in downtown off 3300 Capitol Ave., or on surplus land next to a plant nursery in the northern end of the city at 4178 Decoto Rd.

However, separate community groups from the neighborhoods near each of the two locations had vehemently protested against placing the center in their neck of the woods, while a third faction has more recently protested against establishing a navigation center in the city at all.

Another group had also been formed to show support for establishing the navigation center anywhere in the city.

The question of where to locate the center has been discussed at multiple public workshops and meetings — including one where tensions reached a fever pitch, with people banging on city hall windows and shouting over other speakers.

Tuesday night, people set up tables with information on their views on the issue in the city hall parking lot and distributed signs, while other held posters in support or against the center.

The center would be modeled after a navigation center created in Berkeley last year, and would be comprised of 11 modular prefabricated buildings, city staff said, including sleeping units, community rooms, and hygiene units.

It would accommodate up to 45 people at a time, including homeless people living in the city currently, as well as some from Newark and Union City, who will be selected to stay in the center based on their individual needs and their willingness and ability to live in a group situation, staff reports said.

The people would stay there for up to six months while working with dedicated housing navigators whose main responsibility is to find them permanent housing, whether it be an apartment or shared living space, renting a room in a house, or reuniting with family or friends with a lease agreement, city reports said.

Staff members of the center would also work with residents on finding employment, benefits, health and wellness connections, and support them in their social and recreational needs, city reports said.

And despite Bay Area Community Services — a nonprofit Fremont chose to run the future center — touting a roughly 80 percent success rate at its Berkeley navigation center in the first year it was open, some residents believe the center is a bad idea.

Dozens of people protesting against the center on Saturday near Lake Elizabeth chanted Recall Lily Mei, the mayor of Fremont, while some held signs that read No HNC or Recall.

Tom Zhang said he lives in the Mission San Jose area of the city, and is opposed to the center altogether.

I feel its not an effective way to use public funds, he said while in line to get into the city council chambers Tuesday.

He said too much of the money for the center will go to staff, including the navigators, and hed like to see more emergency homeless funds go toward rental subsidies instead to help prevent homelessness from occurring in the first place.

Jane Wang, from central Fremont, said shes worried that more homeless people will come from other parts of the state if a navigation center is established here, and is also opposed to it.

Both Zhang and Wang were one of many people wearing red shirts that have the words No HNC in Fremont and Little Help Big Waste printed on the back.

In prior workshops and in online survey responses, many people told the city they are concerned homeless people will “commit crimes in the surrounding neighborhoods,” and could lower property values, city reports said.

Fremont’s police chief, Kim Petersen, in an open letter to residents and at the meeting Tuesday said after researching the issue, she believes the center would actually contribute to a safer city by reducing the number of homeless people on the streets, offering them stability.

Petersen also pledged that the police department will ensure the area around the center doesn’t become overrun with homeless encampments, if some spring up after the center opens.

Arun Ramani, a resident and one of the organizers of the group opposed to the north Fremont location, said in an interview Sunday the city hall location is best for the homeless people who will stay there, because it is closer to services, medical facilities, and grocery stores.

You need to make sure that you put it in a place where it’s going to be really successful, he said.

Meanwhile, people who favor the center at any location said the council should continue to take action to support people living on society’s margins.

We all have concerns about how it will pan out, but it doesnt mean we do nothing, Ghada Srour-Musselman, a resident, said to the council.

Samar Barakat, who lives in north Fremont, said she feels some of the people protesting against putting the center in Decoto were advocating for the city hall location as a way to mask their desire to not have a center anywhere in the city.

Theyre just going to keep saying no, no, to each location, until eventually it doesnt get made in Fremont,” she said.

It makes me really sad,” she said. “Weve seen homelessness increasing throughout the years, so this is a solution that needs to happen now, and that can be built upon.

Staff reports say the center, which could be ready for use by mid-2020, would cost about $7.7 million to build and operate over the next three fiscal years.

The city plans to pay for that with approximately $3.7 million from housing and homelessness emergency state funds, $800,000 from Alameda Countys social services funding, and about $3.2 million in city funds including surplus money from the 2017/18 fiscal year, and the unallocated balance in the citys affordable housing fund, city reports said.


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