Seattle's 'Navigation Center' to open, offering new hope amid homeless crisis

SEATTLE -- Modeled off a similar facility for the homeless in San Francisco, Seattle's long-awaited Navigation Center will open in the International District on Wednesday.

The 24-hour shelter is designed to serve those who have been reluctant to seek services elsewhere due to restrictions – including the fact that many traditional shelters prohibit drug and alcohol use.

The Navigation Center's policy on substance use is murky at best, and could prove controversial. During a tour of the facility on Tuesday, members of the press sought clarity on the level of drug and alcohol use that would be tolerated at the facility.

"We assume that a significant portion of the people referred to stay here will be people with problems with substance abuse," said Daniel Malone, head of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, which is tasked with operating the facility. "In order to be able to serve them adequately, we can't turn them away if they are demonstrating the effects of those problems."

Malone said clients likely will not be kicked out of the facility if caught using drugs or alcohol while inside, saying the city is in an "odd spot."

"We have people who are using substances that need the kind of safety that a place like this provides," he said. "So, we're going to do our best to deal with that here."

In addition to an unusual drug use policy, the new shelter also allows pets, provides space for couples to sleep in the same room, and gives clients a secure place to store large and small amounts of personal belongings.