Two signs Seattle is taking next steps on homeless plan

Feb 9, 2017, 5:55 AM | Updated: 11:50 am

bike racks, Seattle homeless plan, homeless camps, Mike O'Brien...

(File, Associated Press)

(File, Associated Press)

The Seattle homeless plan has been slow to develop ever since Mayor Ed Murray declared a state of emergency in 2015. But this week, the city showed two signs that things are moving forward.

A previously rumored outreach team was officially announced Wednesday. Seattle’s homeless czar George Scarola said last week that the team will connect people living on Seattle sidewalks with a place that will handle housing and individual needs.

Related: Lessons learned fighting the Seattle homeless crisis

1. Navigation Team

The Navigation Team is composed of contracted outreach workers and specially-trained police officers. That training includes de-escalation and crisis intervention. The team is designed to engage with people living on the street, get them into housing, and connected them with other resources.

On Wednesday, Mayor Murray commented:

The Navigation Team will work with people living with the most severe challenges, such as ongoing opiate addiction or mental health issues. This population of people living unsheltered are too often found in dire circumstances, in unauthorized encampments where they are more vulnerable to serious criminal activity. Our outreach must focus on these specific challenges to achieve the goal of moving people living unsheltered into stable, permanent housing and helping them get back on their feet.

Scarola said that living on the street is “unacceptable,” but there is currently no other place for people experiencing homelessness to go. There are no 24/7 shelters or low-barrier shelters. Eventually, however, the city will move to a point where two options will be presented — one will be the shelter.

“(The team consists of) people who are going to go and say, ‘Here’s the plan for you, we either find you shelter quickly, or you will not come back here,” Scarola said last week. “And they will have a police officer next to them helping spell that out.”

The team will focus on individuals with “urgent and acute unmet needs,” according to the city, and aim to create “faster resolutions to hazardous situations.”

2. Navigation Center

Seattle is converting the Pearl Warren Building at 606 12th Avenue South into the Navigation Center. Expanded shower facilities, storage space, and other modifications will be done before it is opened. It is modeled after shelters in San Francisco — dormitory-style housing with showers, laundry facilities, and food provided. The city plans to house up to 75 people at once.

According to the city:

The Navigation Center, near the International District, will be a 24-hour, low-barrier shelter designed to connect homeless individuals to services and transition them to permanent housing and will open to a limited number of people this spring. While the Navigation Center is being completed, the City will set up temporary sites to provide similar services.

“Low barrier” means factors that usually block people from going to a shelter. Factors such as pets, couples and addictions will not prevent entry to the center. No drug use will be allowed on site, the city notes.

The Downtown Emergency Service Center has been contracted to run the facility, providing mental health care, addiction treatment, and other services. Operation Sack Lunch will provide food. While the Navigation Center is being set up, temporary sites offering the same services will be available.

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Two signs Seattle is taking next steps on homeless plan