FREMONT, Calif. — As about 80 people took the mic at the June 18 Fremont, Calif., city council meeting — about half of them Indian Americans — to voice their disapproval, city administrators laid out their plan to build a homeless navigational center.

About 608 people in Fremont are homeless, according to city planners’ estimates from a 2019 ‘Point in Time’ survey. This represents a 43 percent jump in the homeless population here, consistent with numbers throughout Alameda County, which has seen a rise in homelessness due to spectacular rent increases and a lack of affordable housing.

City administrators also noted that there have been as many as 133 homeless encampments within Fremont.

The city has identified more than a dozen sites for the proposed 45-bed facility, one of which is the Niles Discovery Church. Residents of the neighborhood, in speaking about the proposed site, which is near two elementary schools, told India-West that the safety and well-being of the community would be impacted as homeless people are brought to the shelter (see earlier story here: https://bit.ly/2WhM3yq). The church would reportedly receive $200,000 in rent per year from the city.

“I take my walk every day in that area. There could be sex offenders or drug abusers. That’s a real concern,” Urvashi Shah told India-West. Her husband Bhupendra Shah told this publication that the city lacked transparency in the process of choosing a site, and had reportedly already contracted with the Niles Discovery Church earlier this year, before residents of the area were informed. Both the Shahs stated their disapproval publicly to city council members during the meeting, which allotted each speaker one minute to voice concerns or support.

Reshmi Inamdar was one of the only Indian Americans to voice her support for the navigational center at the Niles Discovery Church. “We need something to help the homeless, and it’s good that the church is there offering to help,” the long-time Fremont resident told India-West.

Inamdar noted there were many homeless people who had jobs; employment, she said, is threatened when people don’t have the means to shower or launder their clothes.

“This NIMBY (not in my back yard) thinking prevents formulating a solution. If you don’t get ahead of the problem, you’re going to lose control,” she stated, noting that the center would also provide on-site services to help the un-sheltered get back on their feet, via financial counseling and mental health services

In her public testimony to city council members, Inamdar noted that the Sisters of the Holy Family in 2016 had sold a portion of their land in the tony Mission San Jose neighborhood of Fremont, for the city to build affordable housing units. Many of the same concerns had been voiced then, she said, noting that none of the issues have come to fruition.

“We need to help people that can be helped. People who have jobs, or have lost jobs need a safe place to put their head down at night.”

City planners noted to council members that a dozen sites were still under review. The city was awarded $2.1 million from California state’s Homeless Emergency Aid Program, 60 percent of which must be spent by July 1, 2020. Alameda County has matched that amount by 30 percent.

At the meeting, city council members debated criteria which would be used to identify the site. Chief among them was that the center should be placed one mile away from any school.

Mayor Lily Mei noted that there were 42 schools in Fremont; therefore, no navigation center would be built if that were a criteria. She urged people attending the meeting to go out and talk to homeless people to more clearly understand who they are.

Other criteria included access to bus services within a half-mile walk, especially buses connecting to BART stations, and access to food services such as grocery stores and delis.

City council members also debated whether city-owned parkland could be used and whether preference should be given to sites in which no rent was involved.

Bay Area Community Services was identified as the organization which would provide on-site services, such as financial counseling, mental health and substance abuse services, as well as a plan for exiting the center after six months.

Using the approved criteria, city planners will come back to the council July 9 with two or three top choices for the center. The council will take a final vote mid-September.

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