By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“We deserve honesty, transparency, competency, and legal accountability … regarding [the Navigation Center].”
Patty Fong lives near Little Saigon and has been following the Navigation Center saga.
On Sept. 26, the City of Seattle hosted a follow-up meeting for the community to discuss the 24-hour shelter for the homeless. It has been a sore topic for the local Vietnamese and Asian American community. They have said the decision to site the center on the edge of the city’s Chinatown International District was reached without getting their feedback.
Fong was at the Sept. 26 meeting, as well as seniors and parents of children who attend Sierra Summit Alternative School, where the meeting was held.
“They expressed latent anger at being snubbed by the city, as well as concerns about safety for their kids and seniors,” said Fong.
She cited a September article in The Seattle Weekly in which Human Services Department (HSD) spokesperson Meg Olberding said the 60-day deadline for moving Navigation Center participants into permanent housing isn’t “hard and fast.”
“The Navigation Center isn’t supposed to be a permanent shelter and I felt like they (the city) were moving the goalposts,” said Fong.
“Pressing the city and Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC) further about the lack of housing before the Center even opened elicited no response. At best, one city person said some people had transitioned into housing ‘with family.’ How do you open a center that is supposed to transition people into housing when you know beforehand there isn’t any?” asked Fong.
According to a Sept. 22 report by HSD Director Catherine Lester, the Navigation Center has served 105 people since it opened in July. Of these, 32 (30 percent) have exited the program in the first 45 days of full operation. Nearly half of the clients who have left have refused to disclose or didn’t know where they were exiting to.
The report goes on to say that the city and DESC — which manages the Center — have been evaluating the intake process and program to ensure there is a fit with the clients entering the Center.
Fong wondered about the vetting process. “Do people who are admitted have … records of violence — gun, domestic abuse, substance abuse, and addiction? Many parents voiced their concerns about their children’s safety and proximity to new unknown neighbors.”
According to the city, the majority of Navigation Center clients (64 guests or 60 percent) have been unsheltered for over a year and many fit the definition of chronically homeless (57 guests or 54 percent).
Most have chronic health conditions that make it difficult to stay in a traditional shelter. Originally, the city planned to refer people to the Navigation Center based upon their length of time of being homeless.
However, the lack of low-barrier shelter in Seattle has kept many unsheltered, so the city determined that it was more effective to refer people to the Navigation Center based on the barriers they face to traditional shelter, rather than solely basing off length of time of being homeless.
“I will not accept that a project like the Navigation Center — a social experiment. It does not seem to be operating in good faith, even as it is funded with public money and is in the center of a community that has a lot of … homelessness and displaced persons,” said Fong. “Moreover, this lack of preparation dismisses the communities of Little Saigon and the International District once again. We expected more.”
Recently, the city granted Little Saigon $50,000. “The community needs support and investment, and the city provided this funding as mitigation for the lack of engagement,” said Quynh Pham, the executive director of Friends of Little Saigon. Pham said the money would go towards capacity building and organizing for the community, not the city.
Ruth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.