Seattle has been in a homeless state of emergency since 2015.
Seattle has been in a homeless state of emergency since 2015. CITY OF SEATTLE

4/26: This post has been updated to include a response from City of Seattle officials.

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On February 8, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced plans to build a long-promised 24-hour, dormitory-style Navigation Center in Little Saigon's Pearl Warren Building. Unlike many of Seattle's existing homeless shelters, the Navigation Center is intended to be low-barrier, meaning it would house couples, people with pets, and people struggling with mental health or addiction problems. The Downtown Emergency Service Center will operate the center and its programs.

But the shelter was met with opposition from residents and business owners in Little Saigon, who said city officials failed to properly notify them of their plans to build the shelter. After a March protest and talks with the mayor, neighborhood group Friends of Little Saigon (FLS) announced Monday in a media release that Murray would delay construction on the Navigation Center "until a detailed plan is vetted and approved by the community."

Now, a community task force assembled by FLS will work with city officials on the project "to advocate for the needs of the CID neighborhood and other communities of color facing displacement."

The FLS task force will seek to address "the lack of authentic engagement with communities of color" and "the negative safety, public health, economic, and cultural impacts on Little Saigon and [Chinatown-International District] communities."

In an e-mailed statement, Meg Olberding, director of external affairs for the City of Seattle's Human Services Department, said that the location for the Navigation Center followed the city's typical process for siting a homeless shelter. But to address the Little Saigon community's concerns, she said city officials are "actively working with neighborhood and community leaders to develop a plan."

The creation of a task force comes after Murray met with Little Saigon community members in March to hear concerns about the Navigation Center, Olberding said. After acknowledging concerns from Little Saigon community members, the mayor then "directed Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim, Director Catherine Lester, and Director Kathy Nyland to work with our city departments to address some of the key issues that have been raised by the community," she said.

The project delay comes two years after Murray declared Seattle to be in a homeless state of emergency. As a result, for many residents in Little Saigon and the Chinatown-International District, the Navigation Center's construction is inevitable—they just want to be involved in the process.

Quynh Pham, a member of FLS, told The Stranger that the group isn't anti-homeless, either. Rather, their push for the delay comes after years of being left out of city conversations directly affecting the neighborhood. What FLS members don't want, Pham said, is for the city to pit marginalized communities against each other.

"We’re a majority refugee and immigrant community, so we understand the challenge and struggle communities that are suffering from homelessness [are facing]," Pham said.

The group put it this way in their release: "Although the Community Taskforce is proactively addressing the public safety, public health, economic, and cultural impacts and concerns, this effort does not suggest the community’s support for the operation of the Navigation Center in the CID neighborhood."

Olberding maintained that building the Navigation Center is a critical step forward to address homelessness in Seattle.

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This model [for the Navigation Center] not only provides a safe place for people who are homeless to come inside off the streets, it also brings their possessions off the streets, contributing to a cleaner neighborhood, as well as on-site staff to serve as a liaison with the community around issues that might arise. This new model is one called for in the City’s Pathways Home Plan, and replaces the night-time only, no-staff-or-service-model of shelter that has been operating in the Pearl Warren Building for the past two years.

The site of the Pearl Warren building met many of the criteria for such a shelter, not the least of which was the amount of unused space available for carrying out this enhanced-model vision.

This post has been updated.

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