FREMONT (KPIX 5) —  Fremont city council members voted unanimously to open a controversial homeless navigation center at city hall after listening to three hours of public comment from residents who came out in the hundreds.

People packed the meeting to hear the contentious conclusion, which began at 5:30 p.m.  Speakers were allowed around 45 seconds each to speak.

There were two proposed locations for the center: a parking lot behind city hall in downtown Fremont and a surplus city property on Decoto Road–the city hall lot won.

The center would help 45 people at a time and about 90 people a year.

Three opposing groups began lining up outside city hall during the early morning to sound off ahead of the decision. They are the “Yes, pick a place and build it” group, the “Maybe, but not in my backyard” group and the “No, don’t build a navigation center at all” group.

“I just want them to build it. Take the money the state is giving us, chip in our own volunteers and build the center,“ said Martha Kreeger, a supporter of the center.

The “No” group insists their position doesn’t mean they don’t want to help the homeless–they say they’ve spent many hours volunteering helping helping the homeless.

“What the city is doing is just a big waste of money,” said Stefani Lam, who opposes the center.

And for longtime residents like Cowboy Bob, who’s with the Friends of the Navigation Center group, it’s about helping fellow residents in need.

“This is about being able to help people that are in a bit of trouble,” he said.

“It’s bad, I mean there’s a lot of homeless people out there that we don’t even see,” said Katherine Rubie who just became homeless herself.

Rubie was among the residents who spoke during public comment to voice their opinion to council members face-to-face. There were so many people who showed up to speak that public comment lasted about three hours. The crowd filled an overflow room, and dozens more gathered outside city hall to listen to the meeting.

Many in the crowd appeared to agree that city hall made more sense because its proximity to public transportation, health care and social services. Some were opposed to the center altogether.

“My preference is for the city hall site because I feel like it’s closer to services and it just makes more sense to me for people without transportation,” said Rubie.

Tuesday’s vote followed months of deliberations and debate on whether to open up a homeless navigation center in the city where the homeless crisis has resulted in some people living in trees.

But opponents said they were concerned a center would increase crime in the area and attract homeless encampments. The city manager told the crowd Tuesday that there was no evidence either

of those two would happen. City staff have repeatedly told the community that a similar center in Berkeley has proven successful at helping the homeless get into permanent housing.

The center is a temporary solution to the homeless crisis, city leaders said. It will be funded for at least three years through state, city and county funds to the tune of $7.7 million. The program can be canceled at any time.

“It’s only going to get worse, it’s not going to get better if we don’t do anything about it,” said Rubie.

If the proposal for the center is passed, the city will then proceed with contracts to implement the center in 2020.

KPIX 5’s Maria Medina and Juliette Goodrich contributed to this report. 

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