Fremont moves closer to final homeless navigation center site

Fremont’s first homeless navigation center should be located
in a parking lot behind city hall in downtown, or on a surplus city
property next to a plant nursery in the city’s north end, the
city council decided Tuesday.

By a 6-1 vote, the council chose to have staff further explore
putting the center at one of those two sites, after considering a
list of 11 chosen by city staff, and hearing from nearly 90 people
who gave their opinions on the locations.

Councilwoman Teresa Keng voted against the plan, saying she
supported the city hall location, but not the north end one because
she’s worried it is too far from the city’s police
department.

About 45 homeless people would occupy the center for up to six
months at a time while case workers, or “navigators” connect
them with support services and help them find permanent housing,
officials said.

A final location could be chosen by September for the center,
which would be comprised mainly of portable buildings, and it could
open by mid-2020, staff said.

Even as the number of homeless people in the city grows — from
479 in early 2017 to 608 in early 2019 — residents from different
areas of the city packed the meeting Tuesday, many telling the
council to keep the center as far from their neighborhoods and
schools as possible, as they are concerned about safety.

“Everybody wants to support the homeless, but not near
them,” Vice Mayor Raj Salwan said at the meeting.

“My main concern is the low bar entrance, regarding drug
abuse, alcohol abuse, possible s****l predators,” Debbie Smith
said at the meeting.

Officials have said the center would be a “low-barrier” one,
intended to help as many as possible, including those with drug or
alcohol abuse issues, or mental health issues, which can be
worsened by a lack of shelter.

“I would really like to know what the statistics are on
finding someone a home while they’re still drug addicted and
allowed to use drugs or drink alcohol,” Smith said.

Jamie Almanza, the director of Bay Area Community Services — a
nonprofit Fremont chose to run the future center — said workers
there would help connect residents with medical and other
supportive services to address those issues, and while drug and
alcohol use would be discouraged at the center, it would not be
prohibited.

A similar navigation center operated by the nonprofit in
Berkeley opened in 2018 has helped move 78 of the 94 people it
served so far into permanent housing, staff reports said.

Michael Boman, a resident, told the council he’s “not really
for” the center, but said if one must be established, then
whether someone is drug or alcohol addicted “must be a
consideration in the segregation of people who go into the center
versus not.”

Councilman Vinnie Bacon said he was disappointed by the
characterization of homeless people by some of the people who spoke
Tuesday.

“I wish I would have seen more sympathy. And some of the
comments I actually did find somewhat offensive,” he said.

“I understand the concerns people have, but I think the fear
of the homeless is a little overblown.”

The city’s police chief, Kim Petersen, said finding a location
for the center and getting it up and running is a “critical”
part of a needed effort to lower the number of homeless people in
the city.

Fremont has the third-largest homeless population in Alameda
County, behind Oakland and Berkeley. The city counted nearly 27
percent more homeless people between 2017 and 2019, according to
the latest homeless point-in-time count, city staff said. The
county saw a 43 percent increase.

“If we don’t make this sort of attempt to move the needle in
the right direction, then we’re simply burying our heads in the
sand,” Petersen said to the council.

Others supported the initiative, saying homeless people are
already living near schools and homes, only in tents and
vehicles.

“I know there’s a lot of pushback from the various
neighborhoods,” resident Bill Palleschi said.

“Please, please, hang in there with us, there’s a lot of
people that support this.”

Many who spoke said they supported the city hall parking lot
location, which scored the highest based on criteria set by the
council last month, including proximity to schools, food services
and bus stops and transit.

The site is about 1.3 acres, and close to services such as the
Fremont Family Resource Center, Alameda County Veterans Services,
and Washington Hospital.

It is also within about a half-mile of the Fremont BART station
and three bus stops, and within a quarter-mile of two grocery
stores. Washington High is the closest school, about six-tenths of
a mile away.

Hiu Ng, a resident, touted an online petition he started that
had garnered over 3,000 signatures by Tuesday night to support the
city hall location, though it also asks the council to more deeply
explore the issue of opening a center at all.

The other site the council approved exploring further is 1.3
acres of a nearly 10-acre city-owned surplus property at 4178
Decoto Road, most of which is leased to Regan Nursery.

It has “sufficient access” to food services, including a
7-Eleven about a half-mile away and two grocery stores
approximately seven-tenths of a mile away. There are also six bus
routes within a half-mile of the site. The closest school, Warwick
Elementary, is about seven-tenths of a mile away, and is separated
from nearby homes by Decoto Road and a flood channel.

City staff said the future center would cost about $2.4 million
to run annually.

Some of that cost could be covered by a portion of the nearly
$2.1 million in state emergency grants for homelessness solutions
the city received this year. The total includes about $230,000 for
Newark’s share of the funding, which the city chose to pool with
Fremont.

Salwan said there may be opposition to a navigation center no
matter where it’s located.

“I know a lot of folks are for the city hall (site), but I’m
sure but the next meeting we’ll have a lot more neighbors from
downtown who will be like, ‘Wait, we don’t want it near city
hall,’” Salwan said.

Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
Fremont moves closer to final homeless navigation center site