FREMONT — Hundreds of people lined up outside City Hall Tuesday evening, in anticipation of voicing their opinions about the city’s first planned homeless navigation center, an issue that has stirred significant debate in the largely affluent East Bay suburb.
The City Council is set to choose tonight between two locations for the center, which is aimed at helping up to 45 homeless people at a time find permanent housing.
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 have vehemently protested against placing the center in their neck of the woods, while a third faction has protested against establishing a navigation center in the city at all.
Another group has 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.
Up to 45 homeless people living in the city currently, as well as some from Newark and Union City, will be selected to stay in the center based on their individual needs and their “willingness and ability to live in a group situation, with dormitory style sleeping,” staff reports said.
The people would be allowed to stay there for up to six months while working with dedicated housing “navigators” whose main responsibility is to find them a permanent housing situation.
Staff members would also work with residents on finding employment, benefits, health and wellness connections, and support them in their social and recreational needs, and skill-building, city reports say.
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 it’s 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 he’d 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 she’s 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.
“Homelessesness is a big problem and it’s going to get worse, and we need to find a solution, and the HNC is probably one of them,” said Arun Ramani in an interview Sunday. He’s a resident and one of the organizers of the group opposed to the north Fremont location.
“You need to make sure that you put it in a place where it’s going to be really successful,” he said.
He and others in the group think the city hall location is a better site, because it’s closer to medical facilities, grocery stores, and has better transportation options nearby.
Meanwhile, people who support the center said the council needs to continue on the path it has started down, and pick a location tonight, to show support for people who are living on the margins of society.
“We all have concerns about how it will pan out, but it doesn’t mean we do nothing,” Ghada Srour-Musselman, a resident, said to the council.
“Remain steadfast in your commitment to HNC and our homeless,” she said.
“Please, please, these people are not scary, these people are unfortunate,” Peggy Rahman, a resident who is supporting the navigation center proposal, told the council. “It could be you, it could be your brother.”