Tag: Burien City Council

After Refusing Shelter Offer from King County, Burien Proposes Camping Ban

Aerial view of the site the Burien council proposed for a potential pallet shelter, with SeaTac runways visible in the lower right corner.

By Erica C. Barnett

At the end of a grueling, sometimes tearful three-and-a-half-hour meeting Monday night, the Burien city council directed its city manager, Adolfo Bailon, to draft a encampment ban modeled after Bellevue’s law, which criminalizes living in the city unsheltered.

The 4-3 vote came immediately after the council majority voted to reject a $1 million offer from King County that would include 35 pallet shelters (with a total capacity of up to 70 people) and a temporary land swap between the city and the county. Under the proposal, the shelter would go on city-owned land that is currently being used as storage by a Toyota dealer; the county would provide free space for the dealer’s cars at the nearby Burien Transit Center, which it owns.

The council rejected two other sites, including a single-family lot owned by Seattle City Light, while adding a new option that would require an agreement with a whole new government entity into the mix: A triangle of land owned by the Port of Seattle next to SeaTac Airport, part of Burien’s Northeast Redevelopment Area (NERA). Opponents of this plan pointed out that it would subject homeless people living in thin-walled shelters to average noise levels of up to 70 decibels, prompting a brief sidebar discussion about whether metal sheds could be insulated for noise protection the same way houses are. (Probably not.)

Councilmember Stephanie Mora, who previously suggested homeless people relieve themselves in dog waste bags, was not interested in whether excess noise would be harmful to people living in pallet shelters by a runway. “You know what else poses a health risk not only to the campers, but also the public? The drug use and alcohol use of the people that are sleeping out on our streets,” Mora said.

Council members who opposed considering the Port side argued that initiating a brand-new shelter siting process would drag things out even more without satisfying advocates who want to find humane shelter for Burien’s homeless population or those who simply want them out of sight.

Is the cruelty the point? That’s what Councilmember Cydney Moore seemed to think, as she tearfully begged her colleagues not to pass a motion directing Bailon to draft a camping ban for consideration at the council’s next meeting. “This is just mean, and language that tells people that we don’t like them and we wished we can make them go away,”

“Us choosing this NERA site is not helping these people,” Councilmember Hugo Garcia said. “It’s just delaying. It’s just poor policy when it comes to housing, to equity. Out of the three, I’m just shocked that we even are having a discussion on it.”

At several points throughout the meeting, council members who voted to move forward with a ban on sleeping in public said that all the people living in encampments in Burien have been offered shelter and housing. While this is impossible to verify, since there are many private groups doing outreach to unsheltered people in the city, LEAD and REACH—two outreach organizations that connect people to shelter —reported last month that they had only found shelter placements for eight people out of several dozen.

Other organizations, such as the Salvation Army and Union Gospel Mission, offer shelter in Seattle that is sex-segregated and comes with behavioral rules that people with addiction and many mental health conditions may not be able to meet. For example, UGM requires sobriety—people suspected of drinking must pass a breathalyzer test—and its recovery programs are explicitly Christian and not based in science.

Some church-based programs impose even stricter rules. For instance, a program Mora and others on the council majority have frequently championed moves clients from the street into a three-day detox, followed by permanent housing with strict sobriety requirements. If a person fails to stay sober and gets kicked out, they become instantly ineligible for other types of housing for one year, because they were recently housed. The program, run by a Kirkland mortgage broker, also offers “sweeps services” for $515 a person—or just over $20,000 for a “40 person sweep.”

Is the cruelty the point? That’s what Councilmember Cydney Moore seemed to think, as she tearfully begged her colleagues not to pass a motion directing Bailon to draft a camping ban for consideration at the council’s next meeting. “This is just mean, and language that tells people that we don’t like them and we wished we can make them go away,” Moore said, “but we can’t. And that’s just not helpful. It’s cruel to a population that faces hostility every single day.”

Mora, who made the motion, countered that she cared too much about homeless people to allow them to continue living outside, and said they would go into shelter and follow the rules if their only other option was jail. “Every single person that is sleeping outside has been offered beds,” Mara said. “They don’t want help. … There is nothing that is pushing them to take the beds [and] they need something else to push them to take these beds.”

The motion—which passed 4-3—directs City Manager Bailon to come back at the next council meeting (scheduled for July 24) with an ordinance modeled on Bellevue’s camping ban.

Under a Ninth Circuit US District Court decision called Martin v. Boise, jurisdictions can’t ban people from sleeping in public unless they can offer another place to go. Cities, including Seattle, have interpreted this creatively—counting every shelter “offer” as appropriate and viable even if it’s miles across town or would require a couple to split, for example—in order to continue sweeping encampments.

But Bellevue’s law goes further than many, in a couple of ways. First, it actually criminalizes “public camping”—a broadly defined term that includes cooking, rolling out a sleeping bag, and stashing personal belongings in a public space—making it a misdemeanor.

Second, it says that anyone who is unable to accept a shelter offer because of “voluntary actions such as intoxication, drug use, unruly or assaultive behavior, or violation of shelter rules”—that is, people with addiction and behavioral health disorders—the city can force them to move or arrest them for “refusing” to accept an available shelter bed.

One of the problems with mandating sobriety and appropriate behavior—and criminalizing people who fail to comply—is that addiction and mental health disorders are not responsive to punitive legislation. A person who becomes agitated by the presence of other people will not lie quietly on a shelter floor even if they know an outburst will land them in jail, any more than someone dependent on drugs will stop using in exchange for a night indoors. Every city has to learn this lesson eventually, and Burien is about to get its turn.

Burien Decides to Take No Action on Encampment on Its Property, Opening Path for Private Sweep

By Erica C. Barnett

After a heated public meeting Tuesday night, the Burien City Council declined to take any action on a longstanding encampment on city-owned property, effectively allowing a private business that has leased the property to remove several dozen people who have been living on the site since the city forced them to move from a strip of land next to City Hall in April.

As we’ve reported, the city of Burien evicted encampment residents from an area next to the building that houses both Burien City Hall and the local King County Library branch in April. After encampment residents moved (legally) to a city-owned lot nearby, the city decided to lease the property for $183 a month to a nonprofit animal shelter run by the director of Discover Burien, a local business group, which says it plans to open a dog park at the site.

Over the course of the two-hour meeting, which was frequently interrupted by loud disruptions from an unruly crowd, the council discussed and rejected several potential resolutions, including a land swap that would involve accepting $1 million from King County and relocating encampment residents into pallet shelters on a city-owned parking lot site currently leased by a Toyota dealership, which would move the vehicles it is storing there property owned by King County Metro. The Downtown Emergency Service Center will open a new 95-unit permanent housing project in Burien later this year, with 30 percent of the units reserved for people living homeless in Burien, such as the current encampment residents.

“We don’t know where people will choose to go. Certain sidewalks are available. The city does not have camping bans on sidewalks throughout the city. However, there are regulations that govern ADA accessibility … that the sheriff’s office has addressed in the past.”—Burien City Manager Adolfo Bailon

As part of that deal, the encampment would move temporarily to a local Methodist Church that has agreed to host it until the city can work out a deal with the dealership, whose owner was out of town this week and apparently unaware of the discussion about his business.

King County floated this option during conversations with county officials, including Councilmembers Jimmy Matta and Hugo Garcia, last week. Councilmember Stephanie Mora called her colleagues “very unethical and not transparent” for talking to the county without letting the rest of the council know, leading Matta to note that as an elected official, he is allowed to meet with other government leaders.

Mora is a longtime encampment opponent who has unsuccessfully proposed a total ban on “camping” in Burien. During Tuesday’s meeting meeting, she claimed that homeless people draw drug dealers into cities the way children draw ice cream trucks to parks in summer; in April, she opposed placing a portable toilet near the encampment, saying that homeless people should relieve themselves in dog waste disposal bags.

Under a 2019 federal circuit court ruling called Martin v. Boise, governments can’t force homeless people to move from public property if there is no suitable shelter available. Burien has maintained that it isn’t violating Boise by leasing out the property and forcing people to move, because people can simply move their tents onto public sidewalks or other strips of land where they are technically allowed to be. (Burien bans people from sleeping in its parks, using a similar justification).

With its vote, the council also declined to consider other potential options to relocate the encampment temporarily, including other county-owned properties, or continue working on a resolution while allowing people to stay where they are. Councilmember Sarah Moore asked City Manager Adolfo Bailon to address the distinct likelihood that—as the council’s own agenda noted explicitly—people would simply move onto local sidewalks since the city has not found anywhere for them to go.

“We don’t know where people will choose to go,” Bailon said. “To your specific question, yes, it is possible. Certain sidewalks are available. The city does not have camping bans on sidewalks throughout the city. However, there are regulations that govern ADA accessibility … that the sheriff’s office has addressed in the past.”

The King County Sheriff’s Office provides Burien’s police department. Last month, King County Executive Dow Constantine’s attorney sent a letter to the city of Burien saying the sheriff’s office would not help remove the encampment, prompting the city to issue a statement saying it was King County’s responsibility, not the city’s, to address homelessness in the region. Burien officials opposed to the encampment have suggested repeatedly that homeless people are migrating from Seattle to Burien, but there is little evidence for this claim.

Earlier this week, the organization placed signs around the property ordering people to vacate by June 1; according to KIRO, most people had vacated the encampment by early this morning.

Burien Moves Forward with Plans to Force Homeless Residents from New Encampment Site

By Erica C. Barnett

During a tense marathon meeting Monday night, the Burien City Council declined to take action to directly address an encampment on a lot in downtown Burien, which sprung up immediately after the city forced homeless residents to vacate the area outside the building that houses both City Hall and the Burien branch of the King County Library System late last month. Instead, they’ll put the new site up for lease; or, if that doesn’t work, turn it into a park, which will force the people living there to move to another site in the city.

Burien does not allow people to “camp” in parks, but unsheltered people are not banned from sleeping in most other public spaces. In March, the condo association that controls the City Hall building, which includes representatives from Burien and the library system, voted to kick the encampment residents off the property; as a result, they moved to a nearby city-owned lot where at least one city official, Planning Commissioner Charles Schaefer, told them they had a right to be. The council is also debating whether to punish Schaefer for helping the encampment residents, potentially by removing him from his volunteer position.

After hours of public testimony that mostly favored finding solutions to help encampment residents—in contrast to the previous week, when most commenters argued for punitive measures like a camping ban—the council voted down proposals to provide a portable toilet on the site, reallocate human services funding toward a new shelter in the city, or move the encampment to Annex Park, half a mile north of City Hall. Instead, the council voted to direct city manager Adolfo Bailon to advertise plans to lease out the property where people are currently living or to turn it into a park, which would make it subject to Burien’s park encampment ban.

This morning, the B-Town Blog reported that Bailon decided to install a Port-a-Potty at the encampment site even though the council voted down a proposal by Councilmember Cydney Moore to provide one.

Council member Jimmy Matta, who sponsored the motion to put the site up for lease or turn it into a park, acknowledged it wouldn’t solve the problem of homelessness in Burien. Matta, voice raised, addressed the audience. “I would ask the residents of the city of Burien, as boisterous as you come here, with energy—and regardless of where you’re at [on the issue]—let’s get some pressure on the county county elected officials, that state representative state senators, congressmen!”

The council, still deeply divided on how to deal with the 30 or so people living on city property a block from their chambers, will meet again next Monday night to discuss, among other things, potential sites for a temporary encampment; both Nickelsville and at least one Burien church have expressed an interest in hosting a sanctioned encampment. A potential, short-term encampment site in the parking lot next to the Burien courthouse fell through, Bailon said, after the county made  “a very compelling argument” that an encampment would impede the county’s ability to “make sure that justice is available to everyone.”

Also on next week’s tentative agenda: Whether, and how, to censure Planning Commissioner Schaefer, whose supporters turned out in large numbers to argue that he should be praised rather than punished for helping encampment residents.