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Some Navigation Center clients sleeping in tents right outside center

Some Navigation Center clients sleeping in tents right outside center (PHOTO: KOMO News)

There’s a practice by some homeless who have been lucky enough to get a referral to Seattle’s Navigation Center, which has the earmarks of a double dip, having a bed at the center but also choosing to stay in a tent nearby.

The Navigation Center is Seattle’s first enhanced, 24/7 low-barrier shelter. The intent was for it to be a temporary spot for people who were chronically homeless to get a bed, a locker for their possessions, a shower, a meal and a case worker who can assist them in to drug treatment and eventually into housing.

When it opened in July 2017, it had room for 75 people. Now it can accommodate 85 in a dorm-style atmosphere. According to the Downtown Emergency Services Center, 200 people have passed through the shelter having found housing or left for other reasons.

Noah Fay, of DESC, said the shelter has been running full nearly 99 percent of the time. People who are admitted had to receive a referral from outreach workers of the city’s Navigation Team.

The stays were intended to be temporary, 30 to 90 days until a client was placed into housing but soon the road to housing out of the Navigation Center was clogged.

“If there were more housing in this community, then we could house people right now,” Fay said.

But KOMO News has learned of practice by some staying at the Navigation Center of keeping a bed at the center and a tent nearby.

“The nights that I have out, I go sleep in my tent, I got peace, you know what I’m saying,” said Memphis who has been staying at the Navigation Center for 5 months.

“I didn’t follow the rules once and wasn’t allowed in,” Memphis said. “I had to reapply again and they came and got me again - been there ever since trying to get housing.”

Memphis violated the 72 hour check-in rule. There’s no curfew at the center. Clients are allowed to come and go as they please and they don’t have to spend every night at the center, but they must check in with the staff within 72 hours of their last check-in or they lose their bed.

Five campers we spoke with, including Memphis, admit they routinely stay in tents outside the Navigation Center even though they have a bed inside.

“There’s no privacy and my shit gets stolen all the time,” said one street camper who lives in an a camp known as "The Tiers.”

“The theft in there is equally as much as it is out here,” said another. “They don't want to stay in there because they feel more comfortable out here because they've been out there so long."

“What people do outside the Navigation Center is their own business,” Memphis said. “I stay outside sometimes because my girl doesn’t like shelter life."

The practice is happening when shelter beds, especially at the Navigation Center are at a premium.

Fay said the practice to stay outside of the center is rare.

“That’s a very slim minority of the people we serve at the Navigation Center,” Fay said. “Shelter is not housing, so any solution that is not housing is inevitably is going to come with overcrowding and theft and all the things that come with not having a place to call your own.”

Memphis is holding out hope that he will get an apartment soon and eventually a chance to move back to where he’s from – his namesake.

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