Navigation Center to miss opening date

Human Services director says finding site taking longer that expected encampments to open

A navigation center originally planned to open to Seattle’s homeless population by January has been delayed, the city expecting to know within the next few weeks where the facility will be sited.

Seattle Homelessness Director George Scarola updated the Human Services and Public Health Committee last week on the city’s Bridging the Gap plan, which is being used to address the city’s homeless crisis while a longterm Pathways Home plan is developed.

Mayor Ed Murray announced Bridging the Gap in late October, the interim plan meant to address immediate needs of people living on the streets, as well as residents in neighborhoods affected by unsanctioned homeless encampments. This includes garbage and discarded needle cleanup, as well as updating protocols for those cleaning up unsheltered encampments, expanding outreach and increasing the capacity for low-barrier shelter.

“Everywhere we go there are a lot of concerned people, on both sides of the equation,” Scarola said of the city’s work on addressing the homeless crisis, adding many people have encouraged Seattle to take a housing first and rapid rehousing approach. “It’s a very well-informed debate.”

Murray issued an executive order to create a navigation center modeled after the dormitory-style living facility in San Francisco he visited back in March. The Downtown Emergency Services Center was selected through a competitive process to operate the navigation center in November, with the expectation the facility would be open by January.

“Identifying a site has taken longer than we had originally considered,” said Seattle Human Services Department deputy director Jason Johnson, “so we’re going to have to issue a new timeline once a site has been identified.”

The navigation center is a major component of Bridging the Gap, not only providing a 24/7 shelter for the homeless — last measured at around 3,000 people in Seattle — but also access to human services and case management with the goal of rapid rehousing.

“All of the core tenets that exist in San Francisco still hold true,” Johnson said. “We’re talking about 24/7, we’re talking about low barrier, we are talking about sort of no curfews or having, you know, free in and out privileges, we are talking about people coming as they are with their partners, with their pets, with their possessions.”

The navigation center is being funded to the tune of $1.67 million, with $475,000 coming from funding set aside when Murray declared a homelessness state of emergency last year, $600,000 from the Washington State Department of Commerce and another $600,000 in private donations.

“This will be uniquely Seattle,” Johnson said, “and it will be implemented with a variety of additional resources that DESC brings to the table.”

Operation Sacklunch was also tapped as a partner in supporting DESC’s operation of the future navigation center.

The city released a request for proposals last week that will provide $1.1 million in funding to add 100 new shelter beds in the city, the application process open to existing service providers and closing on Jan. 20. Johnson said the expectation is to expand the availability of low-barrier, 24/7 shelter that allows people to bring their partners, pets and possessions.

Johnson said the city is also accepting letters of interest from property owners with buildings or sites that could temporarily serve as shelter sites, such as structures slated for redevelopment that are a ways out from construction. The human services director stressed these would not be considered donations to the city.

“The city would act as a broker to match that site that might be available to an organization that might be able to use it for a standup shelter,” Johnson said.

Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw mentioned the partnership between Amazon and Mary’s Place, where the online giant donated the vacant Travelodge hotel it owns downtown for rent-free housing, adding parking lots, warehouses and other empty properties would be prime candidates. Councilmember Lisa Herbold said the Department of Construction and Inspections could also be a resource for identifying potential property sites.

Bridging the Gap also includes plans for opening three new sanctioned encampments at 1000 S. Myrtle St., 8260 Nesbit Ave. N., and 9701 Myers Way S. The Low Income Housing Institute will operate the Nesbit and Myrtle locations, Johnson said, while an operator for the Myers Way encampment is still being determined.

“The full details of what can be available at these sites is still being developed,” he said.

Councilmember Bruce Harrell said he has heard public comments that there are a lack of social and human services in the area of the Myrtle encampment, and asked whether provision of such services would be mobile.

“All of it hasn’t been scoped out, but there are some expectations that we have with standing these up,” Johnson said, adding the expectation is that service providers be reaching out to people within the encampments, and a mobile medical van is expected to continue providing services at these sites.

“You keep saying three; that’s great,” Bagshaw said. “The mayor’s letter indicateds there will be a fourth. Will there be a fourth?”

A fourth encampment site is still being identified, but Scarola said the city can accomplish a lot with three to start, adding they are not expected to fill up immediately.