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

I normally see a neighbor or two on my morning run: the neighbor across the street leaving for work, the elderly man tending to his yard, the next door neighbor eagerly retrieving mail from his mailbox. By the park there is one man I see more than any of the rest. I usually wave or say hi, greeting him with familiarity. Unlike the other neighbors, I don’t know exactly where he lives. He is most certainly homeless. If he or anyone else should wish to live at the proposed DESC (Downtown Emergency Service Center) supportive housing project in Burien, it would be a boon to the individual and to the community. The rich and politically powerful DESC is far from perfect. Some of its policies range from questionable to downright cringey. However, this is one of the few recent concrete changes that addresses the worsening homeless crisis in the area. It is time to accept the DESC supportive housing project in downtown Burien and welcome its future tenants as neighbors.

One of the primary reasons that DESC picked Burien is because it recognized the “unmet needs among the population group DESC serves”. There are people here who need this service. DESC Burien will have 95 single occupancy rooms for those experiencing chronic homelessness in the area. 25 of those apartments are reserved for veterans.

Every incoming tenant has to sign the “good neighbor policy”. This policy is part of a lease contract that, when violated, subjects the tenant to eviction. The eviction rate is very low, about 1% of all DESC tenants in 2020. That is a higher rate of good neighbors than one should normally expect anywhere. The typical tenant will be permanent, staying there until death or illness requires more care. As such he will be a permanent member of the community. A community that he has as much a stake in as we do.

There are numbers of studies and statistics that ought to placate the doubtful. 911 calls decrease when people go into supportive housing off the streets. The burden on local emergency services will actually go down; one study found an average cost savings of $31,545 per person housed in a similar program over the course of 2 years. Incidents of arrest and incarceration will decline significantly. Study after study proves the efficacy of the harm reduction method. A set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use, the harm reduction method used by the DESC not only reduces harm to the user, but to taxpayers and to the community as well.

DESC is a large and powerful organization. There have been complaints against it detailing as much. One example is in the Letter to the Editor on January 3rd, which highlights DESC’s tax records. DESC is an organization tasked with solving the massive homeless crisis in the Seattle area. It manages 16 plus supportive housing buildings and over 1400 long term tenants. According to its most recent annual report, in 2020 alone it served nearly 8,000 clients, with 5,637 people enrolled in more than one of DESC’s many social and health service programs. One should hope that their coffers are full and funding robust, with political connections strong enough to take effective action on such a gargantuan issue.

The current lawsuit against DESC Burien is the most recent of many attempts to halt its construction. The suit claims that, since long term supportive housing is not technically affordable housing, it doesn’t qualify for the exceptions that are being made under the affordable housing program in Burien. It’s a last ditch, thinly-veiled Not In My Backyard effort to block a much needed service.

Like many other Burien residents, I was taken aback when I received anti-DESC flyers in the mail. I didn’t want this multi-million dollar organization building a dumping ground for Seattle’s homeless problem in my backyard. Then I looked around me, at our town. I saw my neighbors. I did some research. The studies I found gave me hope. Decreased strain on local emergency services, increased chance of success in addiction treatment and long term housing retention. DESC and the Housing First policy it espouses may not be the best solution for our region-wide crisis, but it works wonders for individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. Individuals, maybe, like my neighbor by the park. He should be welcome here, and I hope that you will welcome the future DESC Burien tenants as the good neighbors we all strive to be.

– Graham Lake
Burien

Works Cited:

EDITOR’S NOTE: This Letter has been revised to reflect that the proposed DESC center in Burien is not exclusively for men only.

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