EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the views of South King Media nor its staff. This specific Letter is related to one from Burien Councilmember Krystal Marx that we previously published here; the article referenced in this Letter can be read here.

‘A Helpful Decision, A Harmful Article’

Recently our Burien City Council voted to make permanent a policy of proactively leading with services to address the needs of our Burien family members who have been living on streets. As someone who has been personally engaged in this issue for some time, I applaud the compassionate discipline that seeks to make life better for everyone in our city.

Unfortunately, this heroic decision and the leadership that led to its enactment came under fire when I shared the story with a writer friend of mine. The inaccuracies of the subsequent article led to misunderstanding for many people and much needs correcting. I refer to the City Journal article entitled Burien Collective Solves Homeless Problem.

First, the homeless problem has not been “solved” in Burien. The creative and courageous steps taken by the city is a significant move in motivating and seeking to help some of our most broken neighbors to a path of health and healing, but we still have homeless among us. The homeless situation is a complex issue. There are solutions, but no single action will provide a home for all the poor, the mentally challenged, the broken, and the addict.

Second, I would like to explain the actual purpose and motivations of The Burien Collective. My company was facing a challenge: We had identified several qualified applicants for a position we were attempting to fill. More than one candidate expressed excitement about our company, but their enthusiasm was dampened when they heard our location was Burien. This unexpected problem generated much thought and conversations, leading to the realization that Burien needed a clear and uplifting identity and perhaps the business community might come together to help establish and promote that identity. That idea precipitated a request to my friend Dean Orrico, to meet with business owners to assess what that identity should be and work to unify the business community around it.

At a dinner gathering of about 40 business leaders last January, the results of Dean’s research and survey were presented and discussed. The brainstorming from that event produced nearly 300 ideas for the business community to promote Burien. Together we learned some significant insights:

  1. Most popular small towns across the country who enjoy a positive identity have reached that place through a unified effort by enthusiastic, creative business leaders (e.g., Leavenworth).
  2. The business owners and leaders in this city display an unusually high degree of good will and mutual support.
  3. Burien still suffers from a lack of clear or promoted identity. While those of us who live here understand Burien is a hidden gem, the outside world judges us by the last crime report or the latest airport expansion notice.

We invited the group to come together to create and promote a new Burien identity. A subcommittee was created to narrow the ideas down to the most practicable first steps — that small group eventually dubbed itself “The Burien Collective.” (The reasoning behind this name was to advance the idea we are inclusive of all Burien residents and business owners and we are promoting each individual working for the benefit of all. We hoped that, eventually, all people working to support each other for the common good would take on some association with the name.)

The Burien Collective decided we wanted to create solutions and foster prosperity for the whole city, leveraging the business community’s own resources, asking for no financial support from the government or citizens. We also decided we wanted to focus on positive ideas on which we could all agree, rather than taking any action on issues that could divide. Therefore, we intentionally steered away from the homeless problem and other challenges the businesses face — not because we did not care but because we wanted to focus on unity-building projects.

At a second dinner event in April, The Burien Collective team presented the identity we felt could be promoted and an outline of how “Burien First Fridays” would work as a first step to accomplish that goal. Though there were many aspects of Burien that could be promoted as special, the business community overwhelmingly decided our most unique characteristic: We are a town of good will, congeniality, neighborly attitudes and generous warmth. Unlike most cities in the greater Seattle area, we still treat each other with small town kindness.

At this April event, there was enough energy around The Burien Collective that Mayor Matta, City Manager Brian Wilson and Economic Development Manager Chris Craig came to see what was happening and lend their support. During that meeting some business owners unexpectedly shared their frustration with the homeless situation and the impact it was having on their commerce. The city leaders — especially Brian Wilson — listened with great care and took to heart what was being said. Their honest comments encouraged him to pursue some ideas he had already been considering related to being more proactive in providing help and services for the homeless. It is important to note The Burien Collective had not planned on this topic being raised at this dinner and no action was taken by The Collective to pursue, discuss or address the need. We were focused on Burien First Fridays and what The Burien Collective could do to promote unity and prosperity.

Midsummer, as the First Friday’s events were up and running and the city had launched the pilot program of leading with services, I was in a conversation with the author of the article. His work on homeless issues led him to ask what I knew about the pilot program the city had launched. We set up a phone conversation and I shared what I knew, my comments mostly focusing on my admiration for our city leadership and my delight in the thought that we could help some our most marginalized and needy neighbors on a road to hope and healing.

As a separate issue I also shared how Burien is changing, about The Burien Collective’s First Friday’s initiative and our desire to honor our city by creating a positive identity. I shared the process of moving this forward and the evening that gathered the business community to share the vision. I shared that the Mayor attended and how Brian honored us by taking seriously the concerns the businesspeople had expressed over the street vagrancy problem. I also shared how Brian told us his attendance at our event was helpful in his thinking.

When the article came out, I was shocked as the headline itself was misleading. The article twisted The Collective’s incidental impact and inferred that this was our objective as a “community organizer.” The article was completely inaccurate as to the role and mission of The Burien Collective. And while I personally rejoice in the collateral good that The Collective event had on the neediest, to say that we were responsible is to allocate credit to the wrong group; it is the city leadership that deserves all the credit. The Collective never once held a conversation about how to address the homeless issue and there certainly was no lobbying … by myself, Dean or anyone in The Collective.

To all that have been negatively impacted, especially those who were part of the First Friday’s leadership and Dean, who had no idea of my conversation with the author, I apologize and ask for your grace.

We believe the identity we’ve defined — as well as an inordinate amount of first-class local talent and certain efforts by others in the city — leads us to believe Burien will eventually be known as the Arts and Entertainment District of the Puget Sound. I hope that there is more and more collateral good that comes from an optimistic, honoring and growing business community. The Burien Collective mission is to serve our city through a positive message and greater economic vitality…and we believe our greatest days are still ahead.

– Martin Barrett

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