In an 15-1 vote, the Houston City Council approved an agreement between the city and a local homelessness services organization for the operation of a new navigation center in Houston's Fifth Ward.

As part of the agreement, the city will pay just under $2 million in federal coronavirus relief money to help fund operations at the center through Aug. 31, 2023.

Located at 2903 Jensen Drive, Houston, the center will provide bridge beds to a minimum of 350 homeless people annually along with services to help them obtain employment and address health care needs, among other needs. The city's partnership is with the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County, which will operate the center.

Addressing concerns from Fifth Ward community members, who have expressed frustration about the project being placed in their community while other issues went unaddressed, Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city was committed to making sure the new center enhanced the area, rather than pulled it down. He emphasized that a navigation center is different from a homeless shelter, adding that individuals will only stay at the center for 60-90 days before being transitioned into other housing across the city.

"There was a need for the Navigation Center in order to get people off the street," Turner said at the Sept. 14 meeting.

In addition, Turner said the first year of the center's operation will serve as an evaluation period. He vowed to shut the center down if it does not "live up to the promise" of not burdening the community.

The lone vote against the center came from at-large Council Member Letitia Plummer, who said she appreciated Turner's vow, but said the metrics by which the center is being evaluated need to be more clearly communicated to residents in the area.

"That would give them a little bit of ease, because then they have a checklist," she said.

However, Plummer said she supported the center's mission and thought the city was moving in the right direction in terms of addressing community member concerns.

The funding agreement got support from District B Council Member Tarsha Jackson, who represents the area where it will be located. Jackson said she would be watching the pending formation of an advisory board to make sure the Fifth Ward community was well represented.

"Hopefully once [the] advisory board comes together, we can start talking about ... what we want this navigation center to look like and other programs around area," she said.

Other services at the center will include transportation to and from the site, 24/7 security, three meals a day, laundry and one-on-one case management. The center will not take walk-ins, and clients will have to be referred by homeless agencies or first responders.

The center will also include two classrooms that will be available to the greater community.