The new low-barrier shelter set to open in Little Saigon in mid-July may not be designed to fulfill its goal: helping homeless people who do not fit in traditional shelter models get access to services and housing.
The Navigation Center — a 24-hour, low-barrier facility that opens July 12 — caps the number of days a client may stay, could prioritize people who are easier to get into housing and lacks policies that could prevent conflict with residents living nearby, according to a letter signed by neighborhood safety advocate Sokha Dahn and Public Defender Association attorneys Andrew Kashyap and Patricia Sully.
Those factors could mean that the center — meant to remove barriers for people with substance abuse problems or who are otherwise excluded from other shelters — may serve only to take people in and churn them out again in less than two months.
“In general, as you may know, our office is supportive of the principles underlying the Navigation Center. It has the potential to serve as a low-barrier point of entry for people currently living outside, who can ‘come as they are’ and stay inside while a good housing match for their circumstances can be located,” the letter reads.
“However, a number of questions remain outstanding regarding the proposed model, the answers to which have substantial bearing on the potential ability of the model to meet the needs of both the individuals to be served and the community in which the Center is located.”
The letter, sent to the Friends of Little Saigon and the Navigation Center Community Task Force, alleges that the Navigation Center may accommodate people only for a limited amount of time, may serve people who are easier to get into housing and doesn’t include provisions for people who use drugs, which could cause conflict with people living nearby.
The Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC), one of Seattle’s largest service providers for people experiencing homelessness, is tasked with operating the facility at the Pearl Warren building in Little Saigon, but the city of Seattle is drafting the rules around how the facility operates.
Two weeks before opening, those parameters are not completely defined.
At present, clients will be able to stay at the Navigation Center for only 60 days. Who gets a spot and how is not known even by DESC, said Daniel Malone, the executive director of the organization.
“I don’t know with full clarity at this moment what all those criteria are that will be used for that,” Malone said.
It’s also a question if the Navigation Center’s target clientele — people with substance abuse problems or who can’t get into traditional shelters because they have pets, possessions or partners — will be able to translate services at the center into housing in just two months.
The Seattle housing market is so hot that even folks with vouchers to subsidize their rent have difficulty finding places that will accept those vouchers.
The low quantity of affordable housing, particularly housing with services meant to support people transitioning from homelessness, presents a problem, given the ever-growing number of people who need help, Malone said.
“That fact is highly relevant in the overall Navigation Center,” Malone said. “A shelter program for 75 people simply is not going to be able to overcome the massive imbalance.”
It’s a problem echoed down the coast.
The Seattle Navigation Center is modeled after an eponymous shelter in San Francisco. In January, that shelter put a 30-day limit on stays for clients, veering away from its original mission of allowing people to stay until they got into housing.
“The model switched so we have more opportunity with other people — because we have far more need than resources,” Randy Quezada, spokesperson for the San Francisco Department on Homelessness and Supportive Housing, told Missionlocal.org.
Although Seattle’s model is more generous, a two-month stay may not be enough for people to find housing. Even with a housing voucher in hand, it can take three to four months for applicants to find an apartment complex that will accept them.
Although Malone himself would prefer to provide housing, he still hopes that the Navigation Center, as designed, will give people the space and tools to make a positive difference in their situation.
“At a minimum they’ll have some recuperation, and my hope is that if a time limit comes into play where we’re working with someone and unable to secure housing for them and the time limit means they have to leave, I hope some of the progress they’ve made while they’re there will endure,” Malone said.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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