The Next Big Move to Get Off the Streets: Seattle’s Navigation Center

Home » The Next Big Move to Get Off the Streets: Seattle’s Navigation Center

“Everything is double-hard out here, including being clean.”

This bit of wisdom came from Sidney who spoke in May with the Seattle Times.   He was living in a tent on South Dearborn at the time.   He’d been homeless for two years and was struggling to survive.  He was trying to figure out on a daily basis how to meet his most basic needs, including where to get food, take a shower and how to wash his clothes.

Sidney’s story is not uncommon among the residents of Seattle’s tent encampments and it is a tragedy. We simply don’t have enough shelter and appropriate housing alternatives in our region to offer decent places off the street.  The result: thousands of people in Seattle and King County do not have a stable place to live. We see them every day.

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights estimates that 29% of people living unsheltered have been barred from shelters due to addictions, criminal history or untreated behavioral health disorders. Without access to shelter and services to help his health problems, Sidney and people like him will continue to live outside on Seattle’s streets.

I hope we are better people than to accept this fact as an acceptable norm.  Fortunately, we have new options.

For many years I have advocated for increasing the range of indoor spaces that can help people who live on our streets get stabilized and move off the streets.  Places that can accommodate their pets,

San Francisco Navigation Center. Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle

offer lockers for their belongings, give them a place with a locking door and coordinated social services assistants to help with substance abuse or behavioral health disorders.  In other words, offer clean and respectful places for people currently living on the streets and provide the assistance they need to move up and on with their lives.  This person-centered approach is the only way we are going to see healthy changes in our city and region.

Since I visited the San Francisco Navigation Center in May, 2016, I have written that Seattle’s overnight shelter  “system” was a waste of our tax money because it was not a system and people were not getting better.  At best we offered individuals a place to get off the cold and wet streets for a night; but we were not accommodating individual needs and what was actually happening was the perpetuation of a bad cycle.  When doors opened in the early morning the same individuals were back on the same cold streets without a step forward.  We needed to focus on creating places where people could stay 24/7 and get the help they need.

Learning lessons from other successful programs across the nation, we are opening two Navigation Centers of our own.

Our first Navigation Center opened its doors and welcomed residents from Seattle’s tent encampments earlier this month.  It is sited on 12th Avenue and Weller, and to date, there are 28 residents in the Center.  That’s 28 more people off the streets and into a space where they can regain a bit of dignity.  The building will accommodate up to 75 people.

Shelter is available twenty-fours a day, with full-time staff, client-focused case management, showers, restrooms, and food services.  Each of the sleeping rooms has 10 to 12 metal single beds with protected mattresses for easy cleaning.   Belongings coming into the center undergo a high heat treatment with the goal of combating  bed bugs.   Guests will have a locking trunk at the foot of every bed for the storage of personal items and there’s more space for larger items in a covered, locked area outside the building.  Yes, lockers for every person,

Councilmember Bagshaw and Washington State Representative Nicole Macri with storage lockers

The Navigation Center will only accept residents by referral from the City’s Navigation Team, a new approach to the declared homeless emergency that pairs outreach workers and police officers to connect with people living in tent encampments and help individuals move to alternate shelter.  The Navigation Team will refer individuals who are in the greatest need of intensive services and resources.

Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC), a leading service provider in Seattle, will operate the Navigation Center and Operation Sack Lunch will offer food service.

This is not a place to live forever.  The DESC staff is dedicated to developing a personal plan with and for each resident, helping them move up and on to a better living situation.  The goal is 30- 60 days inside the Navigation Center.

I am committed to creating more 24/7 shelters and housing options such as tiny homes across our region, and connecting people in those shelters with coordinated services.    I am weary of seeing people struggling on our streets.  The expansion of all-day shelter, from traditional overnight shelter, is a priority action under Seattle’s strategic Pathways Home Plan,

Increasing the number and type of shelter and housing options  is the solution to addressing homelessness in our region.   Combine stable housing with a person-centered approach to address behavioral health needs and we will have a workable system.

Seattle’s Human Services Department has issued a Request for Proposal (RFP), that seeks competitive bids to coordinate our $30 million investment homeless services funds and align with programs that have proven to work.  Proposals are due in September.  The primary goal is to move people into housing.

This is a welcome new system wide approach coordinating resources with King County, United Way and All Home.   Seattle funds will be available to create more shelters like the Navigation Center and fund promising solutions with measurable outcomes. Please see the RFP link above and visit All Home if you are interested in learning more about what you can do.