Site chosen for homeless 'navigation center'

Following a delayed January start, city officials last month announced the Pearl S. Warren Building will be the site of Seattle’s first 24-hour low-barrier homeless shelter, taking its cues from a San Francisco model.

The Navigation Center will be different from many homeless shelters in Seattle, allowing people to stay regardless of sobriety, partners, groups and pets, and also provides storage for their belongings.

“There will be people there to help them facilitate sort of what these belongings are, how to store them, how to keep them while they continue in their housing search,” said Jason Johnson, deputy director of the city’s human services department.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray issued an executive order to create a navigation center modeled after the dormitory-style living facility in San Francisco he visited last 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.

While the Pearl S. Warren Building, 606 12th Ave. S., meets criteria established by the city in making its Navigation Center site selection — having the capacity to serve up to 75 people at any one time —  there will need to be tenant improvements, Johnson told the Human Services and Public Health Committee on Feb. 8. That includes the addition of showers, bathrooms and lockers. The city’s finance and administrative services department is expected to soon have details on those costs and a timeline for opening, he said.

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 in 2015, $600,000 from the Washington State Department of Commerce and another $600,000 in private donations.

Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who chairs the human services committee, asked Johnson for clarification regarding rules at the center. She said she has heard from residents that incorrectly assumed the Navigation Center would be available to people for drug consumption.

Johnson said the Navigation Center will have a number of rules for those seeking temporary shelter while they transition into more stable housing. While people can be actively using drugs and alcohol, those substances will not be allowed at the Navigation Center.

“If someone breaks one of those rules, it’s not an immediate eviction,” Johnson said.

People will be coming into the center with various needs, and case workers will work with each person to make accommodations, Johnson said.

“You can’t have someone whose drinking all day sleeping next to someone who’s actively working on their sobriety,” he said, “so they have to make an accommodation of space, to make sure those two individuals aren’t in close contact.”

Bagshaw, who joined Murray on a tour of San Francisco’s first Navigation Center last year, thanked city staff prior to presentations for reaching this step.

“Many of you know that the Navigation Center is something that I have been supporting for a long time as a best practice.”

Scott Lindsay, the mayor’s public safety advisor, discussed the Navigation Team that will be out on the streets, working with homeless people to establish “better resolutions” for those facing the greatest challenges.

Eight dedicated outreach workers have been paired with eight full-time police officers and a new sergeant. Bagshaw noted the officers on the team volunteered for the assignment.

“They are people that want to do this work. They have had additional training on harm reduction strategies and deescalation,” she said, “and I’m just very thankful that are police department will be working with us to both improve public safety and the appearance of public safety, and to get people into shelter and the services that they need.”

Lindsay said the Navigation Team conducted its first assessment that morning at an encampment around the I-5 Mercer Street exit.

“There have been a number of serious incidents affecting the Fred Hutch and the Cancer Care Alliance,” he said.

One woman at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance House was hospitalized in late December when another woman allegedly stabbed her in the neck.

Lindsay said the team will be breaking up into smaller groups to engage with homeless people around the city, prioritizing real-time information and responding to customer service and Find It, Fix It requests.

“This will be a big difference, to have officers who really have the passion and commitment for this work and the training to really connect with people surviving outside,” said Chloe Gale, co-director of the REACH Program, the principal outreach provider for the Navigation Team. “Creating individualized plans, I think, for every community and every location, will make huge difference.”

Lindsay said what has not been effective is for unsheltered people to receive a visit from police officers one day, an outreach worker the next, and then an encampment clean up on the third day.

“When police arrive now with outreach members, it won’t be a team that’s fresh to this problem, but a team that is experienced, and there will not be confusion about what the MDAR (multi-departmental administrative rules) are or what the protocols are,” said George Scarola, city homelessness director. “They will be practiced, and they will have a team spirit about their work with each other.”