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The native-led housing and human services agency Chief Seattle Club has opened its 80-unit housing development in Pioneer Square Monday, Jan. 24.
The new urban Indian development — named ?ál?al, meaning “home” in the Lushootseed language — houses 96 residents and will also include a clinic, café and community space.
“Some of our Chief Seattle Club members have not had a permanent place to call home for more than a decade,” said Chief Seattle Club Executive Director Derrick Belgarde, who is Siletz and Chippewa-Cree, in a news release. “?ál?al is their first real home in a long time. It’s a place to live and practice their culture, to sing and bead, and gather together with other Native people.”
The units will be available for individuals and families making below 50% of King County’s median income, or $40,500.
In compliance with fair housing laws, anyone meeting this criteria — even those who are not Native or enrolled in a Tribe — may apply for the housing. However, a Community Preference Plan is on file with the Department of Housing, allowing Chief Seattle Club to prioritize half of the units for those who receive services, mail or live near Chief Seattle Club.
All of the units are designated for homeless households with 10 units for veterans and 16 designated as double occupancy.
Native Americans and Alaska Natives make up approximately 1% of King County’s population, but face the highest poverty rate of any racial group and comprise 32% of its chronically homeless population, according to Chief Seattle Club.
“Centuries of policy forced Native people from their homelands and into cities,” Belgarde said. “The crisis of Native homelessness is the result of U.S. policy. It’s a crisis that needs to be addressed with culturally-appropriate solutions. The data is clear, rates of long-term success are higher when people are served by members of their own community.”
Of the 12,000 homeless people in the county, over 10% are American Indian or Alaskan Native. Chief Seattle Club aims to bring culturally relevant strategies to addressing the crisis.
“Our relatives on the street are living in survival mode,” Belgarde said. “We need housing to help people find stability. Once they have that, we can bring them ceremony and they can begin to heal. These breakthroughs are possible when people are safe and housed.”
The landmark housing project is located across from the Pioneer Square Link Light Rail Station featuring nine floors of housing, health care and social services.
The Seattle Indian Health Board will will provide medical, dental, pharmacy, behavioral health and traditional medicine services in the building. The 2,600-square-foot clinic includes six exam rooms, a traditional healing space, two talking rooms, a pharmacy and staffing offices.
The ?ál?al Café will serve traditional foods and feature on-the-go lunch items sourced from Native businesses, including teas and coffee from Native roasters.
“It gives me a chance to dream again and to believe in myself,” said Maurro Romero, a Chief Seattle Club member and tenant of ?ál?al, in a news release. “(It’s) a new beginning and a new adventure, a place where you are accepted for who you are.”
Thirty-five Native artists are featured in 65 locations in building. Exterior art includes a carved welcome figure by Squaxin Island Tribal member Andrea Wilbur-Sigo and brickwork featuring Salish patterns. The café will feature permanent and rotating art from Native artists.
“?ál?al is on Native land,” Belgarde said. “To have this place restored to Native people is really powerful.”
“We celebrate this opening, but there’s more to be done,” Belgarde said.. “We need a diversity of housing options to meet the need, including permanent supportive housing, light support, affordable units for families and singles, and transitional housing.”