[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a verified resident. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of The B-Town Blog, nor its staff:]

The intent of DESC to construct a 95 unit apartment complex in the center of Burien is worth our community’s serious attention on many levels.

First, this plan lacks compassion for those who have landed in the life of the street. These are real people. They were created with a purpose, with gifts, and with the capacity to live a full life as a contributing member of society. Anything less than a determined and purposeful engagement with these folks leads to an outcome that is not compassion.

DESC, in their own words, is committed to the paradigm of “harm reduction.” It is a cruel fatalism. According to this model, we only need to give these folks a safe, clean and warm place to exist, to manage the damage. The restoration of person and purpose, the honoring of their capacity to create or teach or provide value to others is negated. They are virtually hindered from becoming contributing members of our community. This is an elitist and condescending attitude. It is also the easy way out for communities that adopt it. Just pay the money.

Yet we know that there are programs that bring genuine healing to the broken; that restore their dignity as a human and give them the fulfillment of living for something other than the next fix. We have evidence of programs in which over 70% of the participants transition into a productive and fulfilling life, restored as vital, contributing community members. One effective care provider insists the problem is not a lack of houses, but “a catastrophic lack of relationship.” The programs that actually provide true help and change for the street population do it through community, relationship and sheer numbers of volunteers, not by state-run facility projects. If we accept anything less than that, we have opted out of compassion and courage.

Second, if you wonder where this is leading, just go into downtown Seattle. DESC has been part of the chaos and growing brokenness created by the misguided “compassion industry.” In Burien, we have roughly 35 homeless folks. Our city has led the region with some courageous policies that have given the homeless an opportunity to enter onto the path of healing. If our city needs more engagement from the Burien community — the faith based community, citizen groups, or the army of retired folks — to expand their efforts to engage with the homeless, then let’s hear that call. This is a Burien issue. This would be not only heartless to the homeless in Burien who might be lured into these ineffective “solutions,” but it also enables the backward tactics they are imposing on Seattle, our neighbor. It is not wise on our part to facilitate this industry when more productive, purposeful options exist for the homeless.

Finally, this is not compassionate to the surrounding Burien community: the elderly in nearby Merrill Gardens and the men, women and children living in Seahurst, Chelsea Park, downtown Burien who will encounter mostly unemployed folks who are provided free needles and condoms. We have a responsibility to the vulnerable in our city and allowing this building complex is not standing for them. Nor do we fully understand the impact on our already strained police and emergency services.

Fellow Burien residents, let’s lean into a solution for our city’s homeless, those who struggle on the street that moves them to healing. But, let’s do this ourselves, together. Duplicating measurably ineffective — and even damaging — programs is not offering real compassion to our homeless population.

– Martin Barrett

EDITOR’S NOTE: Do you have something you’d like to share with our highly engaged local Readers? If so, please email your Letter to the Editor to [email protected] and, pending review and verification that you’re a real human being, we may publish it. Letter writers must use their full names and cite sources – as well as provide an address and phone number (NOT for publication but for verification purposes).