By Jack Mayne
Homeless or near homeless from Burien and beyond urged for passionate concern and support while other, just as passionate citizens, sought relief from crime and the leftovers of drug addiction in neighborhoods and public spaces at a two hour marathon council meeting Monday night (March 20).
The Burien City Council is considering possible solutions to homeless issues, with the potential of opening a day care center.
A large number of people spoke for and against the proposal for a shelter, with many pushing beyond the three-minute time limit. At one point near the end of public comments, Mayor Lucy Krakowiak had the public microphone turned off after the time expired. The mayor, all throughout the hearing, stubbornly tried to restrain applause, largely to no avail.
Crime and fear
Resident Jill Esau (pictured, right) asked why the homeless shelter â€œwas imminent at this point? To host a shelter when we have so many other problems pending that we are facingâ€ noting increases in the Sea-Tac Airport and its noise and traffic, crime and a lot of other problems.
â€œLast night, my seventh break in in less than two years,â€ Esau said.
She wanted to know who on the Council was in favor of the homeless shelter, but was told the Council would not answer when in session.
â€œHow come we canâ€™t know that? Donâ€™t you represent us? I just donâ€™t get it, where is the transparency in our representative government here?â€
Esau asked Councilmember Austin Bell if he had an answer and was told by Mayor Krakowiak members do not answer questions from the floor.
â€œAre you OK with that?â€ she asked mostly upset people in the audience, many apparent opponents to the homeless shelter.
Many shouted â€œnoâ€.
Then Esau suggested â€œa compromiseâ€ where the shelter would be established only when the crime rate in the city is reduced from the current 13 crime complaints a day, five.
â€œWould that be a reasonable compromise,â€ she asked. The Council did not respond, adhering to its rules.
Why here, why now
Earlier, during general public comment period, resident Chuck Rangel said he was opposed to putting a homeless shelter in the now unused fire station. Rangel said with all of the seniors now living at nearby Merrill Gardens, where a gun battle recently took place, â€œnot much forethought was put into that.â€
Patti Janssen said the business owners and the citizens of the city were not consulted before coming up with a program to house the homeless. The study quoted in city documents took place in 2015 and â€œa lot has changed since then.â€
Janssen also asked how the city would pay for such a homeless day care facility, noting the city has ignored citizen demands for more police to combat the increasing crime of the city.
Lisa Parks said she was â€œconfusedâ€ why the Council would believe having â€œa day shelter, car encampment, tent encampment or shower facility would be in the best interest of Burien, whether you are homeless or homed.â€ It all â€œsounded like another failed plan out of the King County (executiveâ€™s) playbook.â€
Parks did like ideas of loans or other financial ways to help people find and stay in homes and recommended homeless be sent to Transform Burien, a cooperative group of churches that offer free resources to those in need.
Resident Chris Hemp said he recently brought his seven-year old daughter to the City Hall/Library complex for her first library card. It was a nice day and they brought some food to eat when the child said, â€œwhy is the guy peeing outsideâ€ and then he noticed people smoking pot.
Hemp said the thing missing from the homeless proposal is input from citizens and business owners.
â€œI donâ€™t think this is the way to go on this,â€ Hemp said.
Homeless are people, too
A formerly homeless person, Jason, said he was saved from the streets by social workers and asked that people â€œto carefully consider when you say â€˜those peopleâ€™ maybe those people are in this room, maybe those people are you neighbors.â€
Leighton Humphreys said he was homeless after an accident that caused his hospitalization for a period long enough to cause loss of his job.
â€œIn no way I had any control of things that have happened to me since that time. Living in Burien there are not many resources for me to access,â€ he said, adding that he is not a drug user.
He said he thought that a day center would be a good idea to be a place where someone could clean up and get off the street.
â€œNot every person who is homeless is a drug user or a violent criminal,â€ he said.
â€œPeople who arenâ€™t homeless seem to have so much to say about what to do with us. There are a lot of people who have never been homeless a day in their life and seem to have an assumption of what needs to be done.â€
Hunter said he understood there were many who were doing drugs and there are many resources available.
â€œBut what do we do in the daytime? I am hearing more complaints as opposed to solutions and it is so much easier to complain when you see something wrong rather than come up with a solution to what you can do,â€ Hunter said, adding he wanted to hear more positive things for homeless people to do.
He noted that there were no parks with covers for people on rainy days.
â€œWeâ€™ve got nowhere to be that is not a public park or private property.
Focus more on the positive,â€ he said.
â€œSolutions and not complaints,â€ Hunter added.
Seek what is best
Mark Putnam, director at All Home, a county-wide partnership that aims to make homelessness in King County â€œrare, brief and one-time,â€ said the solution is often housing that is available and affordable. There is affordable help in Seattle but less outside the city.
All Home says it â€œboth responds to the immediate crisis of homeless individuals and addresses the root causes of the problem in our region.â€
Wherever he has gone in that area, people are motivated with complaints or solutions, more often complaints.
â€œIt is about the community coming together to figure out what is best in your community,â€ Putnam said.
He presented some statistics from a survey that showed numbers from January 2016, when there were 10,699 people homeless in King County, either in transition, in housing, shelters or on the street. Of that number 4,500 were unsheltered.
â€œThose numbers keep going up,â€ he said, with a 60 percent increase in the past three or four years.
Putnam said 91 people died on the streets last year, with the average age at 47.
Of the homeless, 87 percent have been in the area; the rest moved in from elsewhere, he said.
The survey of unsheltered people revealed that 93 percent would accept housing but not shelter, â€œbecause there are issues with shelter.â€
A big driver for people to be homeless is often the loss of a job and, another is a rent increase.
A survey showed about 30 percent were experiencing mental health problems and 50 percent were using alcohol or drugs.
Making homeless rare is hard work, Putnam said.
The All Home website says the â€œsmartest approach is to stop homelessness before it starts.â€ The group says they have learned that helping individuals before a crisis â€œprevents them from spiraling into homelessness.â€
To live up to their commitment â€œto racial and social equity means we must make the shift from a costly, crisis-oriented response to health and social problems to one that focuses on prevention, embraces recovery, and eliminates disparities.â€
At the conclusion of the meeting, Piasecki said he was asking various groups who listened to the discussions and the speakers to make suggestions of solutions.