Seattle Has Big Plans To Open A New Kind Of Homeless Shelter, But Now The Timeline Is Unclear

Dec 21, 2016

Plans to end homelessness in Seattle rely in part on an innovative homeless shelter called the Navigation Center.

Seattle officials touted the center as a creative, modern response to the city's homelessness crisis and initially hoped to open it by December 31. This fall, they said it was on track to open in January.

But Seattle officials now say they're still working to secure a building to house the 75-bed shelter and it's unclear when it may open. The city has allocated $1.7 million for the project.

"We're going to have to issue a new timeline," Jason Johnson, deputy director of the city's Human Services Department, told City Council members at a committee meeting Dec. 14.

The Downtown Emergency Service Center, a nonprofit that has provided services to homeless people in Seattle since 1979, is under contract to run the Navigation Center once it opens. Operation Sack Lunch has a contract to provide meals.

"The challenge with these kinds of projects is they have to be located in a building of some kind, and usually there's some sort of improvement or work on the building that needs to occur before we can occupy it," said Greg Jensen, director of administrative services for the Downtown Emergency Service Center.

Jensen said city officials told the nonprofit the opening date could be six to eight months away. Seattle officials declined to provide an estimate.

 

"Should the process of preparing the facility delay its opening, we will work with DESC and Operation Sack Lunch to begin providing services in the interim," Human Services Department Director Catherine Lester said in a statement.

 

Seattle's Navigation Center is based on a model pioneered in San Francisco. The idea is to eliminate some of the rules that prevent some people from accessing shelters -- and provide case managers who work to get people into permanent housing as quickly as possible. 

 

The dormitory-style shelter will be open 24 hours and classified as "low-barrier," meaning it will allow couples and pets, as well as people struggling with addiction. 

 

Jensen said the Navigation Center is tailored for people who now live in tents and makeshift shelters throughout Seattle. 

 

"I think the guiding philosophy is that if you offer people a solution that works for them, they'll accept it," he said. "And we don't think people would otherwise prefer to be living under highway medians or in wooded areas or on the streets."