There are plans by the City of Seattle to turn the Pearl Warren Building at 606 12th Ave. S. into a Naviagation Center. Mayor Ed Murray announced the plans in Feburary 2017. The Navigation Center is a 24-hour, low-barrier shelter designed to connect homeless individuals to services and transition them to permanent housing • Photo by Cathy You

The City has announced that a new, low-barrier, 24-hour shelter for the homeless will open on July 12 at the Pearl Warren Building at 606 12th Ave S, near the Little Saigon neighborhood. The shelter, called the Navigation Center, is intended to help 75 people at a time transition into permanent housing. It was intended to be one more tool for the City to use in addressing the homelessness crisis, but the project has been opposed by community advocates in the Chinatown International District and Little Saigon, who feel the City didn’t do enough outreach to the neighborhood to address their concerns about possible impacts the shelter might have.

The planned July opening is especially alarming for some after the City agreed to pause the project in March following community demand. According to a statement from Friends of Little Saigon in March, this pause was meant to last “until a detailed plan is vetted and approved by the community.”

According to community advocates and members of the Navigation Center Community Task-Force (NCCTF), the city hasn’t received the group’s detailed response plan — but has proceeded with the July opening anyway. The response plan was intended as a way to address community concerns about the Navigation Center, which the task force had also collected.

In a statement, the Mayor’s office explained why the city is going forward with opening the Navigation Center this month.

“The City is regularly meeting with the Friends of Little Saigon and the Navigation Center Community Task Force….At the same time, the Navigation Center is moving ahead to open on July 12th as there are people living outside in desperate need of the services it provides.”

In a statement published in the International Examiner, the NCCTF criticized the planned July 12 opening, saying “this puts into question their willingness to work with the community.”

Those sentiments viscerally manifested as community members expressed distress, confusion and frustration at a final public meeting, organized by the NCCTF and Friends of Little Saigon, to discuss the mitigation plans submitted by the city.  “They talk about the Navigation [Center] in Chinatown, in our Asian neighborhoods and we have a lot of crime already,” said Peter Kuang, the owner of the Green Leaf Vietnamese restaurants, which has locations in the CID, Belltown and other neighborhoods.

Kuang and others were concerned that the Navigation Centers would attract more crime and harassment from panhandlers and homeless people, and disproportionately put elders and patrons in danger: “If we set up the [center]…older folks, [who] speak different languages, if there’s a problem they will have to figure out how to call [emergency services].”

Dr. Minh Xiao, a neighborhood chiropractor went further in criticizing the city’s approach. “We’re kind of shocked, we think that the city didn’t inform us about this navigation center,” Xiao said. “Mayor Ed Murray helped [the CID] to cleanup Chinatown and they’ve done a really good job in the last year.” Dr. Xiao, however, mentioned that residents who were in-the-know had submitted a petition with “something like 1300 signatures,” but according to Dr. Xiao, the petitioner had yet to receive a response.

Despite strong feelings against the center, Xiao and others took the needs of the homeless and those dealing with drug dependency into consideration. Yet they were skeptical as to why the center would be located in a dense area. According to the Seattle Chinatown-International District 2020 Healthy Community Action Plan, more residents with children are moving into the neighborhood and Xiao believes that “this neighborhood will not be safe.”

Quynh Pham, from the Friends of Little Saigon and the chair of the NCCTF, agreed that many community members lacked information. According to Pham, community meetings in the past have been canceled where people “wanted to express their frustration.”

The plan presented to mitigate the task force has also not impressed the community as well, the

The NCCTF responded to the City’s plan on June 30th, but it remains to be seen whether the original four-part plan that the community recently had formally responded to would change.

The four parts of the plan deal with Public Safety and Operation issues; neighborhood health impacts and social services; economic and community investments to the surrounding community; and neighborhood partnerships to support the center and receive feedback. The plan has also added limited entry and exit hours for the Navigation Center, as well as Seattle Police Department offices to respond to safety concerns.

The Navigation Center is set to open in little Saigon on 12th Avenue. It will include dormitory-style living facilities with amenities, case management staff on hand, and behavioral and mental health services. This center is based on a model used in San Francisco and Philadelphia.

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