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Neighbors complain city didn’t notify, consult on location of low-barrier homeless shelter

SEATTLE – Construction crews are busy inside a new homeless shelter along 12th Avenue South.

The center is planned to be a dormitory-like homeless shelter, but some in the International District said they only found where it would be when the city announced a location in February.

The Navigation Center is expected to house up to 75 people once it’s fully up and running.

It is being touted as a place where homeless people will be transitioned into permanent housing but some people working nearby said they wish they could have shared their input with the city.

Nicole Dell says she gets to work at the MacPherson Leather Company before the sun comes up. Dell is also expected to deliver a baby in less than a month, and she said her ride into work can sometimes get scary.

“There’s been a couple times there’s someone sleeping on the porch or some people just hanging out,” she said. “So I just stay in my car.”

The Navigation Center is planned as a 24/7, low-barrier shelter where people struggling with mental health issues and addiction can go. It is also planned to be a place that won’t turn people away who have pets or partners.

The city says it plans to operate the facility like a dormitory with bathrooms, showers. The center could also offer meals and place for homeless people to store their property.

“I mean there has to be somewhere for them to go,” said Dell. “There’s a lot of homeless people, I can see it on the drive in for work.”

On Tuesday city crews swept dozens of homeless people living in an unsanctioned camp along Airport Way.

“I didn’t move anything, I just left,” said Bree.

Bree said she was one of those evicted, but she and many others simply set up camp down the street rather than follow the rules at some structured homeless shelters.

“I went to Mary’s Place for a week and I couldn’t do it,” she said. “I have anxiety problems. I get very claustrophobic. And being in at a certain time, I can’t do it.”

Bree said the sweeps only push the homeless center population around the city, but she hopes the Navigation Center will be different.

“I hope it doesn’t cause more problems in the neighborhood,” said Dell.

Dell isn’t the only person sharing that concern. The Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area recently sent an open letter to city leaders.

Executive director Jessa Timmer wrote:

"The CIDBIA is very disappointed with the City of Seattle’s lack of communication regarding the Navigation Center. As a leading organization representing the best interest of the Chinatown-International District neighborhood, the CIDBIA should have been informed by the City prior to the decision to place the Navigation Center in the Little Saigon neighborhood, especially since the City has been considering this concept for an extended period.

This project’s location was not disclosed in a timely manner, and there was a significant lack of communication by the City. It is deeply concerning that this represents yet another missed opportunity for the City to engage the Chinatown-International District residents, businesses, and stakeholders.
As the Navigation Center is a new model that the City is trying out, it is crucial that community organizations, businesses, and residents of C-ID are not only notified, but brought to the decision-making table when changes to our neighborhood take place, prior to a final result.

This neighborhood is home to a large population of immigrant and minority community members and small family owned businesses, who have contributed decades of hard work to improve the district and give Seattle the unique culture it enjoys. The neighborhood has not always had the support it deserves and in maintaining a thriving, safe, and vibrant area. It is crucial that representatives of this community are engaged in decisions like these as we continually work, in conjunction with the City, at maintaining public safety and improving the livability of the neighborhood.

It is not so much the fact that the Navigation Center will be in our neighborhood that is infuriating, rather it is the lack of communication regarding this decision and the lack of coordination and outreach to our residents, schools, community organizations, and businesses.

This neighborhood is a compassionate and hardworking immigrant community that cares deeply about the homelessness crisis in our city, about our neighbors who deserve resources and access to housing options. Other neighborhoods in our city do not bare the same heavy burden that the Chinatown-International District neighborhood has faced for decades, and we would like the City to consider the impacts of decisions about our neighborhood fabric when the community is not engaged.

Our community has questions regarding what other neighborhoods in Seattle were considered for the site and how Little Saigon was chosen out of other options, what criteria were used, and how the conclusion was reached. Also, was the Racial Equity Toolkit used in determining this site location and how was it applied?

We request the City make an immediate effort to actively engage in a dialogue and provide answers to these and additional questions from our community.

We look forward to a more productive discussion."

Dell hopes her new neighbors will get the help they need but she worries what could happen once dozens of homeless people are living right across the street.

“We’ll see if it becomes an issue,” said Dell. “If it does I’ll change my hours.”

The city plans to hold community information sessions in the coming weeks, an opening date has not yet been publicized.

 The Navigation Center is located at 606 12th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98144, USA