What Happened to Fremont?

by on July 23, 2019

A caring compassion city finds itself stuck in systematic discrimination. How did we get here?

Ever wonder how systematic racism and classism works to marginalize vulnerable people? Well if you live Fremont it is happening right in front of your eyes. Our city government is working right out of the exclusion handbook. On September 18, 2018, the Fremont City Council declared a shelter emergency after months of discussion and in response to a massive increase in homelessness in Fremont. Almost a year later, the city is still fumbling around trying to decide where to put a new shelter called a navigation center (NC). For over a year now the state funding to build and operate an NC have just been sitting there. Now think about this, if this emergency applied directly to privileged homeowners say in was about a measles outbreak does anyone think that the intervention would take a year to put into place?

I hasten to add that this critique is about systematic discrimination not about the individual intent of staff members or council members. Matter of fact, Fremont is pretty darn good when responding to the issue of homelessness, and individual leaders are personally invested in caring for the poor in our community. Furthermore, they have led on the subject of homelessness, unlike many city leaders who ignore the issue completely or only rely on the criminalization of unhoused people to deal with the crisis.

So if we have compassionate leaders, how did we end up here? The way communities always end up discriminating against disempowered people, through systematic discrimination.

Why is it in a city that has compassion leadership, we end up frozen in impossible community debates and traumatic conversations rooted in fear and exclusion? Because our leaders relied on the status quo land use approach to deal with an emergency.

A big mistake!

They decided to create a process that allowed and encourage privileged ill-informed homeowners to determine how we should respond to our homeless crisis. Predictably this has resulted in a game of ping-pong with one privilege group pitted against another privilege groups using the virtual gated community (e.g., Nextdoor) and mob tactics to try to bully elected officials into not implementing the NC intervention to the homeless crisis in their neighborhood.

None of this has anything to do with the crisis needs of unhoused people in Fremont, some of whom will die on the streets this year. This is how we do land use in California, and is a primary reason we do not have enough housing for low-income or even middle-income people. More of about this later in a future post, but now we see right in front of eyes how compassionate, caring communities systematically discriminate against marginalized people.

So what should we do? It is time to stop the status quo discriminatory processes and implement action interventions that meet high standards of care quickly and without debate. If this declaration of an emergency were related to a measles outbreak, we would be outraged if the city government failed to take immediate action. If it spent a year debating the best healthcare intervention and then took another six months actually to start doing something we would come unglued. Effective government would act quickly to implement best practices, and when there where learning’s they would adapt quickly. With a navigation center intervention, there is ample evidence that it provides value, especially when tied to permanent supportive housing options. Let’s get on with it!

Council should have declared a shelter emergency and in the very same resolution gave staff three months to get an NC up and running. Simultaneously, city staff could have provided the general public NC information both in writing and in public information forums but avoided meeting to “debate” where, when, and how. If for some reason, the NC was not completely successful (e.g., operator managed the site poorly) the city could step in and make changes quickly. This is how you respond to an emergency.

We need to STOP systematic discrimination in land use decision making by reallocating the power now held by privilege people to the greater good and the specific needs of marginalized unhoused neighbors.

Louis Chicoine is Executive Director of Abode Services in Fremont

Filed under: Bay Area / California

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