More Sweeps and More Shelter, But Little Housing for Seattle’s Homeless

Authorities continue to evict homeless campers, but permanent housing eludes most.

Seattle authorities keep sweeping homeless campers, but it’s still not clear that there’s anywhere for most of them to go.

On Monday, local authorities will evict campers from beneath the Spokane Street overpass in SoDo. Mayor Ed Murray’s stated goal for the sweeps is to encourage campers to accept outreach and come inside. Specifically, authorities are sending many evicted campers to the Navigation Center, a 24/7 dormitory/shelter with case-management services. A similar 100-bed shelter run by Compass Housing Alliance opened on Thursday, Aug. 31, at First Presbyterian Church.

The Navigation Center is supposed to rapidly cycle people off the street: Sweeps bring in homeless campers, then the Navigation Center outputs them into long-term housing. But as the 60-day deadline for housing its first cohort approaches, there’s no indication that the Navigation Center is rapidly cycling all that many people into permanent housing.

Located inside the Pearl Warren Building on 12th Avenue South, near the I-5/I-90 interchange, the Navigation Center opened on July 12, half a year later than Murray initially aimed for. Modeled on San Francisco’s own Navigation Center, Seattle’s is “a dormitory-style living facility that provides shower, bathroom, and laundry facilities, as well as meals and a place to store personal belongings,” as described by Seattle’s homelessness response blog. Critically, the Center can accommodate (some) pets, partners, and possessions, unlike overnight shelters. Things like pets and a desire to stay with partners has been cited as a barrier for many homeless people seeking shelter. The only way to enroll in the Navigation Center is to be referred by a cop or outreach worker on the city’s Navigation Team, which evicts unauthorized homeless encampments.

According to the city’s blog, between February 20 and August 11, the team “made 4,199 total contacts to a total of 1,157 individuals,” about four contacts per individual, on average. “Of those individuals, 721 [62 percent] accepted some sort of service, including 419 [36 percent] who relocated to alternative living arrangements.” A later post reads, “All 66 individuals found residing along Spokane Street from Airport Way to Colorado Avenue South were contacted multiple times.” Four people went to the authorized Georgetown encampment, one went to the Navigation Center, three went onto a shelter waitlist, five received medical attention, and a handful of others received other services.

City workers have been removing homeless people from the Spokane Street corridor for months. In April, after a fire beneath the corridor’s overpass, the Navigation Team evicted dozens of people living there inside automobiles or RVs.

Despite repeated requests, spokespeople for the Human Services Department (HSD) and its contractor, the Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC), did not provide Seattle Weekly with statistics on how many people so far have entered the Navigation Center and exited into permanent housing. One Navigation Center participant, Jacqueline Martin, said that she knows of perhaps five participants who’ve found permanent housing so far.

“There have been a couple of housing successes from the original cohort,” agrees DESC spokesperson Greg Jensen, “but my understanding is that those were people who were working on housing kind of before they came into the Navigation Center.”

The 60-day deadline for moving Navigation Center participants into permanent housing isn’t “hard and fast,” says HSD spokesperson Meg Olberding. Moving homeless people into sustainable housing is “an art more than a science,” she says. The city is currently bidding out $30 million in homeless service contracts, says Olberding. According to Mayor Murray, this is the first time that’s happened in over a decade.

“The ongoing challenge of the Navigation Center will be to find housing in a community where we’re really challenged to find an adequate stock of affordable housing,” says Jensen. “But that’s what we’re working on, and we’re turning over as many rocks as we can.”

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

Sara Bernard contributed to this story.

More in News & Comment

Seattle police car. Photo by Dmitri Fedortchenko, Flickr Creative Commons.
Community Groups and Seattle Police Chief Weigh in On Police Contract

Seven of nine councilmembers will need to pass the agreement to ratify it. What will they decide?

Citizens gather for an interfaith candlelight vigil Nov. 1 at the Snohomish County Courthouse to honor the 11 victims of an attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Photo courtesy of The Herald.
Issaquah Company Hosts Gab, Social Media Favorite of the Far-Right

Website was pulled by GoDaddy after Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

The team that advocated for I-1631 at downtown Seattle’s Arctic Club on Nov. 6, 2018. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Washington Rejects Carbon Fee

Campaign organizers say they will continue pushing for a cleaner future.

The race for Washington’s 8th Congressional District is between Kim Schrier (D) and Dino Rossi (R). File photo
Schrier Leads Rossi in Hotly-Contested 8th Congressional District

Candidates compete for seat vacated by Republican Dave Reichert

The race for Washington’s 9th Congressional District is between two Democrats, incumbent Adam Smith (left) and political newcomer Sarah Smith. File photo
Congressman Adam Smith Leads Re-Election Bid for WA’s 9th District

The district spans from Bellevue and south Seattle down through Renton, Tukwila, Kent, Federal Way and Tacoma

Anita Khandelwal
Anita Khandelwal to Lead Department of Public Defense

While the King County Council eventually approved her appointment to the position with an 8-1 vote, Khandelwal’s path to the position was rocky.

Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center is run by Florida-based GEO Group. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Did ICE Retaliate Against a Detainee Over Seattle Weekly Report?

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement denies accusation

Most Read