A long-awaited Navigation Center, a 24-hour, low-barrier homeless shelter, will open in Little Saigon's Pearl Warren Building on July 12, city representatives announced yesterday. The announcement followed Mayor Ed Murray's two-month pause on the project to meet with community residents and business-owners who claimed they would be impacted when the new shelter opens.
Despite the mayor's intentions of engaging neighborhood stakeholders, members of the Little Saigon community still haven't had their concerns addressed, said Quynh Pham, an organizer with Friends of Little Saigon.
"I think this [opening date] proves our point about the lack of knowledge around what meaningful community engagement means within city process," she said. "We don't support... having the center in this location if it does open prior to our response plan [being addressed by the city]."
Friends of Little Saigon and the Navigation Center Community Task Force have discussed their community response plan with city officials during monthly meetings, Pham said. Residents and business-owners in Little Saigon and Chinatown-International District are asking for increased neighborhood security patrols, support for public projects, and help provide sustainable funding for community social service organizations to help mitigate potential impacts of the new Navigation Center.
In a previous interview, two Little Saigon elders said that the neighborhood must support homeless residents by welcoming the Navigation Center.
"We came here with nothing, but people supported us," said Hanh Tran, 74, a Vietnamese military veteran. "Now it's our turn to give back and support the homeless."
The services provided at the Navigation Center will allow people struggling with homelessness to establish a routine, which is important to help them reintegrate with the rest of the community, said Rang Phan, 86, president of a Vietnamese community group in NewHolly. Visitors should see that homeless people "are in a safe place rather than on the side of the street," he said.
Although the Navigation Center is critical in the midst of a homelessness crisis, Tran and Phan said, city officials need to address community concerns without delaying the shelter's opening.
Without a real commitment to support the historically marginalized Little Saigon and Chinatown-International District neighborhoods, city officials aren't being "authentic" in their community engagement efforts, she said.
“The City is regularly meeting with the Friends of Little Saigon and the Navigation Center Community Task Force," Meg Olberding, director of external affairs for the City of Seattle's Human Services Department, said in a statement. "Staff are actively working with them on the points of their community response plan. At the same time, the Navigation Center is moving ahead to open on July 12, as there are people living outside in desperate need of the services it provides.”
Don't call residents and business-owners in the neighborhood NIMBYs, said Pham; the frustrated response to the planned Navigation Center results from a long pattern of being left out of city conversations.
"We're not engaged in the homelessness conversation from the beginning," she said. "We're not part of the solution. We're never thought of as part of a partnership with the city in addressing homelessness. ... We're always seen as NIMBYs because [plans are] imposed on us."
She continued: "We completely understand the need that's out there. The point is that ... [city officials are] pitting one community against the other. You're completely ignoring the fact that there's an existing community that will be greatly impacted."