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

The undersigned Burien community members support the development being proposed by the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), and we invite each of you reading this to join us with your support. This housing is what Burien needs and is a step toward addressing our homelessness crisis. It cannot wait; people are dying for us to address it. Literally.

DESC is proposing a six story apartment complex with 95 individual units of permanent supportive housing, a program that combines affordable housing with support services. Housing will be available to Burien community members making up to 30% of King County Area Median Income (AMI). 25 of those units will be reserved for Veterans meeting the same criteria. DESC is a local not for profit organization that has been providing a wide variety of housing programs in King County since 1979. This organization has been successfully operating permanent supportive housing for 27 years. They are established and credentialed, and recognized both nationally and regionally for their work.

Like any apartment building, residents will sign a lease and pay rent. In this case, the rent is set at a fixed percentage of their income. Residents will be asked to sign a “good neighbor” agreement as part of their lease. Like any other apartment building, residents are allowed to live here as long as they adhere to the lease; most will remain indefinitely. Because the residents are often living with and in need of help managing disabilities, there will be 24/7 staff on site providing support services to the residents. DESC is proposing not only to build and operate this program at no cost to the City, but to continue offering their services in Burien for years to come, and their track record demonstrates that they will do just that.

A letter submitted to this blog earlier this month stated that the development lacks compassion for “those who have landed in the life of the street.” While we agree with the author that these are real people, created with purpose and gifts and the capacity to live full lives, we adamantly disagree with the notion that providing individuals with long term housing and support services to help them reach their potential is in any way cruel or harmful. Rather, we assert that it is the most kind and compassionate thing we can do. What better way to create community and relationship than to bring people into healing together? We believe, and the research confirms, that the methods used by DESC are effective at helping people to re-engage with “ordinary” life. What we have seen is that doing nothing, or requiring people to recover while still living on the streets is exacerbating the problem. Homelessness is not getting better using the old school method of “tough love”. So let’s talk about the methods DESC uses…

Housing first works on the premise that housing is a basic need and prioritizes providing permanent housing as a platform from which individuals can begin to improve their quality of life. People who are eligible for the units will be housed, while simultaneously receiving support to address any behavioral health issues that have brought them into friction with the community or law enforcement. Many activities that housed folks take for granted are socially unacceptable or even illegal when done by people living outdoors. Such simple activities as enjoying a glass of wine, being intimate with a partner, expressing strong emotion during a phone call, or even going to the bathroom or sleeping, can lead to police interventions for a person living outside – yet are common behaviors behind closed doors. Housing provides stability and decriminalizes the act of living one’s life.

If we wish to help people actualize something different in their lives, permanent supportive housing is the right place to start. Our experiences during COVID have shown us that getting people into housing is life changing. Strategies intended to support people while keeping them safe from the pandemic have shown to be successful in their own right. People given space in hotels, with case management to support behavioral health, have good outcomes . People who have those fundamental needs met turn out to be more responsive to housing, treatment, mental health support, and employment.

Harm Reduction
We have heard concern that some of the residents are currently using substances and may continue to do so when housed. The supportive programming offered by DESC uses a harm reduction model. Harm reduction takes substance use disorder seriously as a health issue, and also acknowledges that people have autonomy over their own bodies and lives. People with substance use disorder will be accepted as they are, and offered supported goal setting around reducing use. In some cases, materials may be provided that allow residents to use substances in the least harmful way. Just as nicotine patches can support a smoker in transitioning from a behavior that damages their lungs, clean needles or alternative consumption methods can prevent serious infection or keep people’s veins from collapse. Providing the safest ways to use has proven an effective method to keep the door open for later insight into use, and planning to reduce or eliminate substance use. We do not criminalize people for any other health issue and we should not do so with substance use disorder.

Others in our community are wondering if this is the right location or if this development really fits into the Affordable Housing Demonstration Program. The answer to these questions is YES. According to Burien’s Housing Action Plan, we need to build 481 units of housing in the 0-30% AMI range by 2040. This one apartment building will make up nearly 20% of the need, and it will do so in a way that supports healthy changes for the people living there. Burien already has more than enough people who would be candidates for long term supportive housing. Not all of the people who need this support are immediately visible. Though some of them are visibly living in the downtown core, others are quietly living outdoors, maintaining a low profile and fitting in. Yet others move from one temporary housing situation to another, staying with friends, sleeping in the car, etc. Having permanent housing, near transit, with supportive staff who check in on needs but also respect privacy, will be transformative for the individuals, their families, and our community.

According to the Staff Report provided to Burien’s Planning Commission on March 10th (view meeting here), this development meets both the spirit and criteria laid out for our Affordable Housing Demonstration Program, as well as our city’s current zoning requirements and Comprehensive Plan. Our Commissioners agreed and voted unanimously to recommend approval of it into the Affordable Housing Demonstration Program, a program they helped to design. The location of the development could not be more ideal. It will be located near the services the residents will need in Burien’s “Urban Center”. This development falls directly in line with the vision for increased density in the area that was set forth in the Urban Center Plan. Everything Burien’s city planners and community members have been talking about over the past few years, all of our visioning and planning for the future of Burien, supports the approval of this development.

We must open-mindedly consider all avenues that move us toward housing security, even ways that may initially make us feel uncomfortable. Caring for and providing housing for our residents is our duty as a community – it is a basic human right that must be met. DESC’s offer to Burien is a gift to our community, again, at no cost to the City and no added cost to the taxpayer. This will not be a magic bullet for all of Burien’s housing needs. It will not end substance use, homelessness or mental illness. It will, however, take a bite out of each of the three and will no doubt quickly be accepted as an important and valuable partner in our community – as Hospitality House, Mary’s Place, Transform Burien, the Severe Weather Shelter have all been.

We cannot continue to complain about the person sleeping in the doorway or library and also continue to do nothing to solve the problem. We cannot reject solutions because we don’t understand how they work. People experiencing homelessness are not going to disappear. The problem created by unaffordability, when left unaddressed only continues to grow. If you want Burien to be part of the solution to our city, our country’s, homelessness crisis, please join us by calling on our City Council members to approve this development and provide housing to 95 people who will otherwise be left outside. You can reach Council by email at [email protected]. We welcome your voices!

Sincerely,
Surya Aguilar 98134 
Maria Balsiger, 98166
Zoe Bermet, 98166
Amie Bosshart-Miksch, 98148
Joanna Cobb, 98146
Lynne Cobb, 98146
Adelle Comfort, 98166
Irene Danysh, 98166
Molly Davis, 98168
Laura Denman, 98166
David Feinberg, 98168
Natalia Fialkoff, 98166
Jennifer Fichamba, 98148
Mathew Fichamba, 98148
Marian Gillis, 98166
Jon Gordon, 98166
Jen Greenstein, 98166
Jeppa Hall, 98166
Linda Hansen, 98168
Vicky Hartley, 98168
Aaron Hayden, 98166
Kathy Hazen, 98148
Mahamed Jama, 98148
Caitlin Jordan 98107
Pamela Jorgensen, 98146
Terrance Jorgensen, 98146
George Eli Kaufman, 98166
Sue Kesler, 98166
Nancy Kick, 98166
Patricia Kvinge, 98146
Craig Ledebur, 98146
Seth Leizman 98115
Tuumuli Leui, 98106
Daniel Martin, 98146
Karen McMichael, 98166
Benjamin Miksch, 98148
Mary Moloney, 98148
Sarah Moore, 98168
Brittany Nave, BSN, RN, 98148
Andi Newman, 98166
Michael O’Neill, 98148
Christopher B. Ott, 98168
Roxana Pardo Garcia, 98168
Jenny Partch, 98198 (work 98168)
Annie Phillips, 98166
Reita Piecuch 98106
Jen Powell, 98166
Ramon Regalado Morales, 98148
Leanne Rhys-Jones, 98107
Kate Richardson, 98166
Charles Schaefer, 98148
Sonja Sivesind, 98166
Savannah Sly, 98168
Angelica Spates, 98146
Michael Stein-Ross, 98166
Linda Sundblad, 98166
Jovine Umali, 98166
Chris Valentin, 98146
Beatrice van Tulder, 98166
David van Tulder, 98166
Paul van Tulder, 98166
Simon van Tulder, 98166
Alexzia Wagner 98026
Kelly Welker, 98166
Haven Wilvich, 98168
Virginia Wright, 98166

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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).