Fremont officials vote unanimously; 45-bed homeless navigation center will go downtown

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Fremont city leaders unanimously voted Tuesday night to place a new homeless navigation center downtown behind City Hall. 

The city had narrowed down the location for a housing center to two possible locations, either in the Decoto neighborhood or downtown. 

The controversial 7-0 vote came down shortly after 11 p.m. at City Hall, where the outcry intensified over where to build a 45-bed homeless navigation center. Residents are torn.

The most vocal group wore blue. They want a center, just not in Decoto, away from their homes. An online petition started back in July now has 13,000 signatures.

The group said the City Hall lot makes the most sense near transit, food and social services.

“It becomes obvious that the City Hall location is superior,” said Paul Ullrich of Fremont. “Under each of those checkmarks they put down. Near the Decoto location, the food provider they listed was 7-Eleven.”

City staff said its outreach efforts were unprecedented. Among 2,000 people surveyed, the top concerns included an increase in criminal activity and worries that drug and alcohol problems will spill into neighborhoods.

“While I don't believe this initiative alone will solve homelessness, I do think it's an important part of a multi-pronged approach,” said Fremont Police Chief Kim Petersen.

Chief Petersen said her research found no uptick in crime or homeless encampments around the Berkeley STAIR center, the one Fremont will model its center after.

“It’s a lot of money with little help,” said Stephanie Lam of Fremont.

Lam is part of a group who doesn't want a shelter period. She lives near city hall and said a temporary shelter is not worth the money.

The city said the need to build a shelter is necessary and urgent. Fremont is under a shelter crisis with homelessness up 21 percent in two years. City leaders worry about the loss of critical state and county funding. Fremont has not been immune to controversial housing projects before.

“Ultimately when they get built, people will generally accept them,” said City of Fremont Human Services Director Suzanne Shenfil. “It becomes an okay thing to have in the community.”

Now that the council has decided, it could take up to 11 months to complete construction and set up utilities. The cost for either location is more than $2 million. The city hopes to have it up and running by the middle of next year.