Plans for City of Fremont's first-ever navigation center met with opposition

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Plans for the City of Fremont’s first-ever navigation center to help the homeless was met with strong opposition Tuesday night. Most of the pushback centers around a proposed location near Niles Discovery Church on Niles Boulevard. It is one of several sites that is up for consideration.

The Niles Discovery Church and the Irvington Presbyterian Church both volunteered their properties. The other sites are on city owned land. City officials like the Niles Discovery Church for its proximity to public transit and the church's willingness to combat a growing problem. Nearby residents have other opinions.

Some residents held signs that said “Good cause, bad location” and stood up in solidarity against a proposed navigation center on property owned and adjacent to Niles Discovery Church. 

“This location is a very bad location for umpteen number of reasons,” said Arun Saha of Fremont. 

Saha started a petition that more than 3,000 people have signed. Among the concerns are traffic on a busy intersection near a railroad crossing. They also said it's too close to schools and are worried about the vetting process.

City officials said a center is necessary with a 40 percent rise in homelessness in Alameda County in two years. Fremont is not immune.

“We found out our numbers have gone up 21 percent since 2017 so we now have 608 homeless people in our community,” said City of Fremont Human Services Director Suzanne Shenfil.

The navigation center is modeled after one in Berkeley that permanently housed 82 percent of its clients. Doublewide portables will house 45 men and women and their pets for up to six months with 24/7 staff supervision.

The criteria to include half a mile near food services, a bus stop, and bus service to BART and easy access to utilities.

Fremont resident Hayes Shair is part of the East Bay Yes in My Backyard group that started a counter petition with almost 200 signatures.

“There is a voice out there that wants to find solutions and not just say we don't want it here, we don't want it there, we don't want it anywhere,” said Shair. 

“I think people are fearful and are concerned for the safety of their families,” said Associate Pastor Brenda Loreman of Niles Discovery Church. 

Loreman from Niles Discovery Church understands neighbors’s concerns but she also understands homelessness is not going away.

“I also feel like we need to operate from a place of compassion rather than fear,” said Loreman.

The cost is roughly $2 million. The city was awarded funding and part of it needs to be used by 2020. City officials plan to bring back a final list of locations for the city council to review in July with hopes to break ground in 2020.