Moving day is this Friday for the Chief Seattle Club, but pickup trucks and postage stamps will not be required. The new headquarters for the social service center that caters to urban Native Americans is located next door to the old.
Proximity is about the only thing the two buildings have in common, however.
For 30 years the Chief Seattle Club leased space in the Lazarus Day Center, a basement complex on the Second Avenue Extension in Pioneer Square that provided hot showers and a place to eat. A warm meal would be waiting every morning from 7 to 9, but two hours of regularity was simply not enough.
Jenine Grey, the program director of the Chief Seattle Club, says many homeless Native Americans and Alaskans elect to sleep on the streets rather than in shelters, and most prefer the Club to other food banks and service centers. For them, the early-morning visit has been the main meal of the day.
The new facility, a renovated and modernized hotel on Second Avenue in downtown Seattle, will address some of the most dire needs of the club members.
Office hours will expand dramatically, providing a place to eat and shower all morning and afternoon, every day of the year except Thanksgiving. But food is not the only service that the Chief Seattle Club offers.
“We want to provide more activities around our native traditions and expand tribal identity,” said executive director Jim Burns. For that, the first room visible upon entering the new headquarters is a circular space with a high ceiling and woodcarvings adorning the walls. It’s the Gathering Circle, the spiritual center of the building.
“Our goal here is to provide for the needs of a specific ethnic group and relate to an ethnic population,” says Grey. “It’s not that we want to discriminate, but Native people have needs best addressed as a community. They have to heal, and they have to do that in a familiar setting.
“We are one big extended family here… and our members feel that when they walk through the door.”
The new headquarters features several levels and many more rooms, including a larger cafeteria and changing room. There is also a large, wood-paneled area meant for arts, with a fireplace at one end.
The club hopes that the additional space and longer hours will attract more Natives to the facility. During peak days at the Lazarus Center, Grey says the club has served 125 people; she believes 50 percent more people could use the new building.
The unique mission of the Chief Seattle Club will be at home in the innovative new facility. Designed by the eminent Native American architect JohnPaul Jones, the building showcases many environmentally-friendly strategies.
Solar panels heat the water for the building, rainwater is stored and pumped back into the plumbing system, and much of the construction material was either salvaged from the aging hotel or recycled from other projects.
The environmental awards and certifications that the headquarters has won did not come at a cheap price, and it has taken years to finance the $5.4 million dollar project. The money has been raised through a combination of private donations, city funds and foundation grants, including a $750,000 gift from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Now, the final touches are being put on the new building, and the doors will open for special blessing ceremony on Dec. 6.
That day cannot come soon enough for Burns, who sees the club as an integral part of life for the members. “We want to create a home, bring dignity to the people who come here,” he said.