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Neighbors worry ‘Navigation Center’ homeless shelter opening is being rushed

SEATTLE –The city of Seattle’s Navigation Center homeless shelter has a new opening date after being put on hold since April.

By mid-July, the shelter could begin servicing more than 70 people a day — offering meals, showers and a safe place to sleep along with round-the-clock case management.

But one neighborhood preservation group, Friends of Little Saigon, worries the city is rushing through the process without carefully listening to the community’s concerns.

Some in the International District worry their part of town is being treated like the city’s testing ground for handling a growing homeless population.

Come next month, the city’s experiment with a low-barrier homeless shelter begins, but some business owners worry it could attract more crime.

Business owner Nam Nguyen said his new Vietnamese restaurant is on schedule to open by mid-July – about the same time the new shelter could open just a few blocks away.

“Is this neighborhood the right place for that,” asked Q13 News reporter Steve Kiggins

“Well, of course not,” replied Nguyen.

The planned homeless facility on 12th Avenue South is modeled after one in San Francisco. The new shelter plans to offer essential services for a vulnerable community, including counseling and connections to permanent housing.

Nguyen said he’s concerned the city isn’t doing enough to keep homeless people from sleeping and going to the bathroom on his restaurant’s doorstep.

“People are scared to come into this area because of that,” he said.

“Even if this Navigation Center is successful, but if the communities are not supporting you and community business is going down, is that successful?” asked Friends of Little Saigon board member Tam Dinh.

Dinh is also on the city’s navigation task force and she is concerned the city hasn’t addressed concerns over several issues including public safety. She hopes the city will boost police patrols in the area when the shelter opens.

“When the community doesn’t know, of course there’s going to be fear,” she said.

A spokesperson for Mayor Ed Murray’s office told Q13 News the Navigation Center will not be used as a safe injection site, but the low-barrier shelter will allow intoxicated people inside.

People going into the shelter will also go through a referral process via the city’s navigation team, which includes police officers and homeless outreach services.

“Safety is a big concern,” said Bayley Le, who co-owns a restaurant in the heart of the International District. He, too, worries the city’s planned opening date is rushed, and wants city leaders to spend more time listening to the shelter’s neighbors.

“We really support the transition and rehabilitation of them, getting them back into society,” said Le. “We understand Navigation Center’s purpose, the management of it is what we’re concerned about.”

Murray’s spokesperson also said the city will continue ongoing conversations with the Friends of Little Saigon and other stakeholders in the community.

The Navigation Center could open by July 12.