At the March 20, 2023 Burien City Council meeting, City Manager Adolfo Bailon spoke at length on the latest decisions and options regarding the downtown homeless encampment, which stands at around 14 tents.
He spoke to a full house, as many people crowded in to council chambers to listen to his report and then speak during the public comment section.
Bailon explained that when City Hall joined up with the KCLS Library in one building, a condo association was formed to manage decisions for shared spaces. These shared spaces include bathrooms, entrances, parking, and the area around the building where several tents have been set up for some time.
“The city really can’t deal with it on its own,” Bailon said. “The library, can’t deal with it on its own.
During the last several months, Bailon said that issues involving the campers have escalated. He reported incidents around safety and mental health issues, like a suicide threat in the library and staff being followed into secure areas. Staff have also been prevented from entering or exiting the building, including one staff member with mobility issues who could not get in the building to work.
Due to the Covid pandemic, the building condo association had not been meeting regularly. Changes in staff and association membership had also affected the running of the condo association, so the issue of campers around the building was not addressed as soon as it should have been. However, those staffing changes have been sorted and they are back to meeting regularly.
In a late February condo association meeting, a vote was taken to make the area surrounding the Library & City Hall a non-camping area. They decided to implement this change on April 1, 2023, giving campers and community services five weeks to find other options for this group of unhoused people. City staffers as well as community volunteers are checking regularly to make sure the campers are aware of this pending deadline, and helping them find other options. By the time of this report, they have just 11 days to relocate.
“We had staff members that had already been working internally to make sure that if a decision was reached during the Condo Association meeting that we would be prepared moving forward to help the people that need, and in this instance, we had worked with our normal partners with LEAD and reach, Sheriff’s Office has remained involved throughout the entire process,” Bailon said. “Chief of the Burien Police Department has remained involved throughout the entire process.”
Bailon also said that many of the individuals living outside the building have not lived here before, and that when they are required to leave they may return to where they came from.
As of Monday, Mar. 20, the City has not yet received a response from King County for the immediate request for help, which is 30 units through the Health Through Housing program.
“Now, it’s important to note that not receiving a response could be any number of different things,” Bailon said. “It could be that they’re working on the response and haven’t gotten around to telling us about it. It could be that the county doesn’t have the resources available to share with us. We really don’t know. The only thing we know is that we have not received a response specifically about that particular issue. And so our coalition is really working hard to get a response in one way or another, whether it be a response to the city or or response directly to our coalition members, so we’re continuing to work on getting a response.”
City staff have also asked the county to identify locations where a tiny home village could be built to help our community members without homes. The city’s legal department has reached out to other communities that have a “tent city” or tiny homes village. They have found that insurance and liability can be an issue, and that ongoing site management will be important. It’s not just a matter of providing beds, they also need support staff. A tiny home village of 80 units, with all the needed support and services, will cost about $1 million to operate.
As stated above, the chambers were full of people who came to hear the update and to speak on this, and nearly all of them were adamant that the city needs to provide an alternative housing option before sweeping these campers out of their current location.
Many of the speakers work with the unhoused population in some way, either as a shelter volunteer or staff member, or with other homeless advocacy groups, and wanted to emphasize that these are human beings, who have a right to be housed.
Many said they thought that a tiny home village would be the perfect solution, creating a safer, semi-permanent housing option. One said it could be expected that half of all people living in a tiny home village would find more permanent housing within a short time, that they just needed a safe, stable place to stay in order to get their lives in order.
One woman had been working with Hospitality House, a local nonprofit that helps women with shelter and meals, and thought a similar program should be started for men.
Another said that it was unlikely these unhoused people would go back to where they came from after the end of the month, when they were most likely here because of being pushed out of their previous location(s).
One speaker suggested that the plan to remove the stairs at Eagle Landing Park be scrapped, and the money allocated for that project be used instead to build these tiny homes. The stairs are less dangerous, he suggested, than leaving people to sleep on the streets.
I work at Transform Community Services (Transform Burien) and I have seen lots of improvements and services for the homeless and low income, but there is still much to be done. The tiny house idea is a great idea. I take food to Second Chance Tiny home Park on Meyers Way near the bus stop. It is gated and you must obey the rules. NO DRUGS or ALCOHOL. If you show up drunk or hi, you don’t get in and have to sleep outside that night. You need to talk to them to find out more details and maybe some good info to build our own Tiny House community. They have a time limit, so I’m told, to how long you can stay there. The idea is to help them get on their feet so they can function as a normal human being. Mental health is another issue and maybe getting them off drugs will solve the mental issue for some. I pray for our friends every day and hope we can change this homelessness. These are human beings and we need to get them back on track.
The tiny houses have proven to be successful in the various locations they are sited. Along with the services at Transform Burien, a location close by would be an excellent way to right this very difficult situation. Health and dental care is provided on a periodic basis and the model seems to be a successful one.
Regarding the statement that “said it could be expected that half of all people living in a tiny home village would find more permanent housing within a short time, that they just needed a safe, stable place to stay in order to get their lives in order,” I found these two links below on the Quixote Communities – Quixote Village website that I thought you might find helpful regarding future permanent housing solutions for the homeless in Burien.
QUIXOTE VILLAGE FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
TINY HOUSES – A Permanent Supportive Housing Model – A WHITE PAPER
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