Burien Signs $49,000 Contract for Encampment Response, with Controversial Private Sweeps Provider Doing the Work

Image via City of Burien

Editor’s note: This post has been updated and expanded since this morning.

Editor’s note 2: This post has been updated on Friday, November 3 to include a link to the contract and more details about its terms.

By Erica C. Barnett

The city of Burien has signed a two-month, $49,000 contract with Discover Burien, a local business association, which—according to multiple sources—will hire a controversial nonprofit called The More We Love as a subcontractor to respond to and remove encampments in the city. The city would only officially confirm the contract with Discover Burien, but the city council has been publicly discussing the contract with The More We Love for months.

City manager Adolfo Bailon has the authority to sign contracts under $50,000 without seeking approval from the city council. The contract is signed by Bailon and Debra George, the director of Discover Burien.

The More We Love is a recently formed nonprofit founded and run by Kirkland mortgage broker Kristine Moreland, whose prior experience with homelessness involves volunteering with Union Gospel Mission, a religious nonprofit that runs a shelter in downtown Seattle, and offering paid encampment “sweeps” at a rate of $515 for each person removed.

The owner of Grocery Outlet property where a group of unsheltered people had relocated after an earlier sweep paid Moreland’s group to remove them from his property earlier this year. In emails to city officials obtained by PubliCola, Moreland has disparaged longstanding outreach and case management groups like REACH and implied that she had access to resources that mainstream homeless groups do not. However, there is little evidence for Moreland’s claims, and experienced outreach providers working in the city say the population of the encampment hasn’t significantly changed over the seven months since the city swept the group from its original location outside Burien City Hall.

The Burien spokesperson did not respond to questions about why the city is not contracting directly with The More We Love, as originally proposed. However, the issue of insurance has come up repeatedly in public meetings about the proposal, and The More We Love may not have the minimum $2 million commercial insurance policy required to contract with the city.

The contract focuses on the encampment’s latest location, at Ambaum Blvd. SW and SW 120th St, along with any “other Burien sites requiring services/support.” The three-page scope of work is vague and does not include any performance metrics or deliverables— routine components  of typical homeless service contracts. Instead, it says the subcontractor—that is, The More We Love—will perform a  “general intake of all camp residents,” “communicate with all partners performing work as necessary,” and “identify options for shelter” that are, at a minimum, “indoors.”

According to the contract, the subcontractor will also “serve as [the Burien Police Department’s] primary de-escalation effort” and be “the primary conveyer of ordinance-specific information to campers that affect the unhoused community.”

In September, the Burien City Council passed an ordinance banning unsheltered people from sleeping in the city overnight. After that vote, Councilmember Sarah Moore—who opposed the ban—asked for a public briefing before Bailon signed the potential contract, which at least some city council members still haven’t seen.  Although a four-member council majority has expressed support for paying Moreland’s group to remove encampments, a public hearing would have provided an opportunity for dissenting council members and the public to weigh in and ask questions about the contract.

George, the director of Discover Burien, is also the founder and operator of a local animal shelter called Burien CARES. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because the group rented a city-owned lot—at the bargain-basement price of $185 a month—where unsheltered people had moved after an encampment sweep in March and promptly forced them to leave. The city charged Burien CARES bargain-basement rent—just $185 a month—and the land is now a dog park.

Burien CARES founder and director Debra George, meanwhile, was recently sued by three of the animal shelter’s employees, who alleged that their job duties routinely required them to work more than 40 hours a week, without additional pay, and that one of the three employees was improperly classified as an overtime-exempt manager.

George was recently sued by three of Burien CARES’ employees, who alleged that they were routinely required to work more than 40 hours a week, without additional pay, in order to perform their duties, and that one of the three employees was improperly classified as an overtime-exempt manager.

The “animal control and shelter operations were chronically understaffed,” the lawsuit claims, “and the operation and maintenance of both required Plaintiffs to regularly work more than 40 hours per week, even though Defendant George indicated they would never be paid for overtime hours.”

In her response, George denied most of the allegations, and said the three employees would often show up late and leave early to keep from going over 40 hours a week, “because they were told repeatedly that overtime was not authorized.” The response also argues that George was not the workers’ employer or supervisor, but a fellow employee of Burien CARES; however, George founded and incorporated the organization, serves as its only registered agent, and is the group’s primary governor—a person with authority to make decisions on behalf of a business.

As we’ve reported, The More We Love’s Moreland was sanctioned in 2020 for violating consumer mortgage lending laws, and was allowed to keep her license in exchange for fines that she subsequently failed to pay. Additionally, she has faced criminal and civil charges related to an alleged DUI and unpaid credit card bills. Earlier this year, she distributed a detailed spreadsheet containing personal details and sensitive medical information about dozens of homeless individuals to political allies, police, and the real estate investor who paid her group to sweep the Grocery Outlet property.

4 thoughts on “Burien Signs $49,000 Contract for Encampment Response, with Controversial Private Sweeps Provider Doing the Work”

  1. I got curious what Burien’s ban on sleeping in public actually banned, so I went to their website. Their municipal code was last updated in October, 2023 to take account of Ordinance 822, which defines “emergency housing” and provides it with zoning rules. However, the “round-up” of their September 25, 2023 meeting says the camping ban is Ordinance 818, and none of the obvious places (Title 7, “City Parks and Recreation”, Title 9, “Public Peace, Morals and Welfare”, or Title 12, “Streets and Sidewalks”) show editing that recent, or have anything like that in their tables of contents. So all I could find is the text from the “round-up”: “The City Council adopted Ordinance 818 prohibiting individuals from camping on public property between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. if shelter is available. If an individual refuses the available shelter and refuses to leave the public property, they could be charged with a misdemeanor. [paragraph break] The ordinance will go into effect on November 1, 2023.” This is not an outright ban on homeless people sleeping in Burien, or on people sleeping outside in Burien, or anything like that. It is, however, a ban on “camping” (and I do wonder how they defined that) on “public property” (and is that just city property, or are they presuming to legislate for the county and state as well)? The October 2, 2023 meeting’s “round-up” says: “The City Council adopted technical updates to Ordinance 818, which regulates the ability of individuals to sleep overnight on public property. The updated ordinance (Ordinance 827) changes the hours the ordinance is in effect, better aligning it with the typical operating hours of shelters, and clarifies the intent of the ordinance. The ordinance will go into effect on November 1, 2023.” And that, at last, is the key. The city has a whole FAQ about Ordinance 827, which gives those definitions (though the definition of “camping” is unhelpful and probably intolerably broad – could a housed parent and child be arrested for stopping to eat lunch at a bench on city property?), and yes, they’re presuming to legislate for county and state property as well.

  2. Bailon is clearly the problem here. The County knows it too, which is why the KCSO doesn’t go out to Burien sweeps any more. Nothing will improve until he is removed.

  3. It’s worth noting that the Discover Burien offices are directly across the street from where the second encampment (now dog park) is located. The dog park shenanigans feel very much like George wanted to not have to look at homeless people anymore, so she used her other nonprofit and friendship with the city manager (they’ve been seen multiple times at Dubsea Fishsticks games together, along with BCC candidate, and George’s romantic partner, Alex Andrade) to make homeless people disappear from her sight and allowing Bailon and the city government to dodge Martin v. Boise. Absolutely shameless and unethical behavior.

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