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City’s low-barrier Navigation Center opens Wednesday

The 24-hour shelter is designed for those who are hard to reach

Several tents under a freeway overpass
A homeless encampment in Portland.
Joshua Rainey/Shutterstock

The City of Seattle’s first 24-hour shelter opens up on Wednesday, with 75 beds for those who are homeless, but have found traditional shelter systems challenging. The facility will also have laundry facilities, showers, and storage for belongings.

People can show up with partners, pets, and friends—because wanting to stay with your people is a common barrier to the shelter system.

24 percent of people who responded to a city needs assessment said they weren’t in a shelter because they wanted to stay with their partner; 13.3 percent cited wanting to stay with friends. 20 percent said they weren’t in a shelter because they couldn’t bring a pet.

The shelter’s hours address another common barrier. Curfews, like many overnight shelters have, can be restrictive in many ways. When people have to be in the door by a certain time and out the door early in the morning, it can be a challenge to hold down a job with irregular or even slightly later hours, for example.

Many shelters don’t allow drug and alcohol use—which can be a huge barrier to getting a place to sleep for those with addiction issues. Instead, the Navigation Center just “discourages” it.

Once people are in the shelter, they can be directed toward professionals that can help them with their needs, whether that’s addiction or other mental health challenges or specific housing services.

20 people have already been referred to the shelter, a Downtown Emergency Service Center spokesman told the Seattle Times. Top priority will be given to people currently in unsanctioned encampments.

A similar shelter—also 24/7, also low-barrier—run by Compass Housing Alliance is opening in First Hill’s First Presbyterian Church this summer, adding 100 more low-barrier beds.

Compass also operated the Operation Nightwatch men’s shelter, which previously occupied the Navigation Center’s space. They were told in March that they’d have to vacate the space by May 10. (We’ve reached out to them for an update on their shelter and will update when we hear back.)

The Navigation Center borders the edge of Little Saigon, a neighborhood that has felt increasingly left out of city planning decisions—and the Navigation Center was in many ways a last straw. During the Navigation Center’s planning stages, Friends of Little Saigon raised multiple concerns, summarized in an open letter to the city in February.

“We are being neglected, ignored, and treated as second-class to every City sanctioned project and policy that reaches into the Little Saigon neighborhood,” the group wrote, citing First Hill Streetcar construction, the Seattle Womxn’s March, and Livable South Downtown rezoning as examples.

At the time, they called for a “pause” on development. Commenting to the Seattle Times, spokesperson Quynh Pham seemed more resigned: “There are many in the community who still don’t want it, but we know it’s going to open anyway ... At this point, we just want to have the city address concerns about this model and how the center will be run.”

The shelter was first set into motion in June 2016, when Mayor Ed Murray issued an executive order to open a 24-hour, low-barrier shelter modeled after San Francisco’s Navigation Center. The city reached an agreement to open the shelter in the Pearl Warren Building in February.