By Carolyn Bick
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Since opening its doors last July, the Navigation Center in Seattle’s Little Saigon has found permanent housing for 40 people. However, only three of those people left with employment income, which means their housing situation may not be permanent, based on the City’s Rapid Re-housing (RRH) Guidelines.
Daniel Malone is the executive director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) — the nonprofit that runs the Navigation Center. Since last year, and as of late April 2018, 134 people have stayed at the center, 58 of whom have left. Malone said the median length of stay is 84 days, but of the people who left, it was 147 days. The 75-bed shelter is meant to serve those who face greater obstacles to housing than other homeless individuals, such as severe mental health problems or chronic homelessness.
Because the long-term objective is for most of the people placed in permanent homes to become self-sufficient, the City offers time-limited financial assistance, based on RRH. Though the overall time limit is 12 months, according to the guidelines, once 60 percent of a household’s total income equals the cost of rent and utilities, the financial assistance will end.
Though the center doesn’t have data on the rate of return — the program is too new, Malone said — it is possible that some people may not end up meeting the 12-month deadline, and either return to homelessness or rely on friends and family to help. However, in order to try to avoid this possibility, Malone said that part of the housing process is “strategizing for ways the person is going to have adequate income down the road, so that includes beginning the work on employment.”
Of the 134 total people who moved into the shelter, five had employment income, Malone said. Of the 58 who have moved out, just three had employment income.
Moreover, the 40 people who found housing did not necessarily find it in the Seattle area, Malone said. The goal of the center is to find people housing as quickly as possible, not keep them in the same geographic location. Based on what he has heard, Malone said keeping people in Seattle is also difficult, because of the city’s escalating cost of living.
“The effort is to rent something believed to be affordable to the person later on, so you don’t want to go out renting a $3,000 a month apartment, but it’s extremely difficult to find anything that costs less than $1,200 a month,” Malone said.
The kinds of housing in which the center places people also vary, depending on each person’s individual situation. While some may find a private, single-bedroom apartment, others may live in rooms for rent in larger living spaces. Still, others are put into permanently subsidized housing, but that is reserved for those with the highest level of need.
The center was and remains controversial, because the residents of Little Saigon felt excluded from the initial decision-making process of the center’s placement, Friends of Little Saigon Executive Director Quynh Pham said. Though Pham said the community feels “a little bit better” about the center, following advocacy for the needs of area businesses and talking through the frustrations of residents with the City, “I wouldn’t say, to this day, our community is super-onboard.”
Pham said she has heard reports from business owners in the community of panhandling, illegal drug activities, and loitering around area businesses and the Navigation Center itself. She also said the area has been suffering from “an uptick in graffiti and trash and waste,” which isn’t tempered by the Chinatown-International District’s waste collection services, because Little Saigon isn’t included in the improvement area due to boundary designations. Instead, she said, the Friends of Saigon have been working with the City to try to secure a grant for such services.
Furthermore, Pham said that she and others worry that the shelter’s selection process literally leaves people from Little Saigon out in the cold.
“They don’t look at the geographic boundary of who is homeless in the neighborhood, and so the folks in the neighborhood who are homeless aren’t the ones living at the Navigation Center,” Pham said.
However, she said, the advent of the Navigation Center has meant an increased community dialogue around how to address homelessness in the area. She said the community is trying to use its current nonprofits in the cultural and social context it feels the Navigation Center lacks, in order to help house people.
“[People from Little Saigon] didn’t even get into the system, because no one doing outreach could really connect with them, or speak with them in a way that they would understand the types of services offered,” Pham said. “So far, we have been able to push for someone with language capacity to go out with … outreach folks, to connect with those individuals.”
Still, even when these specific homeless individuals are connected with services, “they have them bouncing back pretty quickly, because of certain cultural barriers of the providers.”
“I guess this conversation is really thinking outside of the box, in terms of how our community assets can really help address some of the gaps,” Pham said.
Carolyn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.