Enhanced homeless shelter set to open, amid Little Saigon concerns

The Pearl S. Warren Building will be the location of the Navigation Center, which will offer 24-hour service to the homeless population. (Photo by Yemas Ly.)

On Wednesday, the city of Seattle will open its first enhanced homeless shelter, called the Navigation Center, in Little Saigon, despite residents and businesses in the community saying that not all their concerns have been addressed since its location was announced several months ago.

Nonprofit Friends of Little Saigon board member Tam Q. Dinh said people in the community could accept the Navigation Center at 12th Avenue South and South Weller Street as part of Little Saigon, but they want to see the city’s plan in ensuring both the success of the shelter and the safety concerns in the community.

“We were never anti-homeless,” Dinh said. “We’re Vietnamese. We’re refugees. We know what it’s like to be displaced.”

The group said it simply wants a detailed plan on how the center will be operated, and they said they haven’t been satisfied with the city of Seattle’s answers.

The Navigation Center replaces an existing overnight men’s shelter at the Pearl S. Warren building and will offer 24-hour services. Those who use the new center will be able to access the 75-bed facility whenever they want and are able to access storage for their belongings, which is an invaluable asset for homeless people.

Basic shelter provisions such as shower, bathroom, laundry and dining services will also be provided, as well as round-the-clock case management, mental and behavioral health services, and connections to benefit programs.

In addition to having accessible on-site storage, users will also be allowed to remain with their partners and pets, which are common barriers for users. Most shelters enforce same-sex and no-pet policies.

The Navigation Center is another step Seattle is taking to combat its homelessness epidemic. Mayor Ed Murray, along with the Seattle Human Services Department and Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, have been working for the past year to create the facility and announced the Little Saigon location in February.

According to Meg Olberding, external affairs director for human services, the city considered a number of locations, and the Pearl S. Warren building was chosen because it was underused as a men-only overnight shelter, it was close to where many of the homeless population were located and it had close proximity to transportation.

“The goal is to better meet the needs of certain populations of the homeless by reducing the barriers that sometimes keep them out of service systems,” Olberding said.

Olberding said the city of Seattle has met with the Friends of Little Saigon weekly, created the Navigation Center Task Force as a platform for community concerns and has roadmaps to moving forward in addressing the community’s concerns.

But Friends of Little Saigon said those roadmaps haven’t been made clear to them or the community, and they question why the neighborhood wasn’t consulted beforehand.

Quynh Pham, member of Friends of Little Saigon and head coordinating member of the Navigation Center Task Force, said that “everyone knew that the area was up for grabs.”

Pham said she had wished the city had asked the community about other possible uses of the building before deciding to place the Navigation Center there.

The Friends of Little Saigon surveyed more than 50 business owners in Little Saigon and said many opposed the placement of the Navigation Center.

Friends of Little Saigon was formed to  preserve the economic and cultural vitality of Little Saigon. The group demands the city to respect the community’s voice and to stop and think about the shop owners who will be impacted by the decision.

Dinh said the community worries that its questions and concerns are being labeled as “anti-homeless,” and she noted that other neighborhoods have been treated differently when they raised concerns. For instance, the Sand Point community had a six-year battle with the city before a new homeless shelter was built in that neighborhood.

Little Saigon business owners interviewed last week said they were not against the Navigation Center, but raised questions about how it might affect the neighborhood.

“I think this is good and bad,” said Bladimir Valladores from the taco truck Taqueria El Ranchero, located about a block from the new facility. “It’s good they’d be off the streets, but it’d be bad if more comes and bothers the customers.”

Another nearby business owner shared the same thought.

Thanh Nga (Tanya) Nguyen, owner of ChuMinh Tofu and Vegan Deli, thinks the Navigation Center is good, because it is helping combat homelessness. However, like many other business owners, she is fine with the placement as long as the users are regulated and are not bothering customers, soliciting and stealing.

“Sometimes they come around here and pee on the pavement,” Nguyen said. “Sometimes they are drunk. This makes the customers uncomfortable.”

Dinh has been communicating with the Seattle Human Services Department and the Department of Neighborhoods each week for the past several months, but she said the city has been vague about its plans to prevent any negative economic and safety impacts.

According to Dinh, the task force has requested information about increasing services to maintain standard public health such as an extra day for garbage services; public safety measures such as screening process for sex offenders, more officers to patrol; and other concerns.

The task force is pushing for an action plan from the city to reassure residents that they and their children will be kept safe.

The task force that includes the community members has submitted a formal 18-page response plan to the city and awaits a response.

“A lot of the residents here don’t have the time or capacity to complain,” Dinh said. “They don’t have time to run a restaurant and advocate for their rights. That’s why we are doing this.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the incorrect month that the location was announced. This has been corrected.