by Jack Mayne
Several Burien citizens told City Council members Monday night about their concerns over increased homeless people in the city, partly brought on by problems around Annex Park a few weeks ago.
The Council was meeting in a less formal study session where problems are discussed, but no final decisions are made. Official action, if deemed necessary, would take place at regular council meetings.
Panhandlers and taxpayers
Darla Green, Burien resident and owner of Skin Perfect, commented on an increase in town of ” vagrants and panhandlers,” some she said were aggressive. Panhandling is against the law, she said.
“We have law to protect the taxpaying citizens of Burien,”Green said, and suggested the city adopt ways to support local charities and needs while clamping down on illegal activities.
“I cannot any longer stand by and watch our Burien businesses, your taxpaying residents, struggle with this growing and critical problem that we are facing that will absolutely impede our rights, the taxpayers of Burien, hurt our neighborhoods and a successful business environment,”Green said.
But then a homeless man said he and many others there were at the skateboard park were not problems, they were just unavoidably without a place to live.
Ryan O’Dell said there is an increase in homeless in Burien because people are being forced out of nearby towns and cities in the area. Many homeless are “upstanding citizens even though they are not paying taxes currently.”
The homeless are facing violent and trouble-minded people because of the number of bars around, and no services for the homeless, O’Dell said.
Transform Burien and a number of churches “have been a godsend around here so many who need help around here are getting it.” He said there are many empty buildings that could be used for the homeless but “nobody is doing anything.”
Not all are like that
Danielwho said he was homeless after his home was foreclosed upon, said he understood the concern about homeless in Burien.
“But not all of us are like that,” and he does not want “that stereotype to be on all of us because we are good people.”
Some are â€œlost and broken and do not care, (but) some of us have goals and talents who could do “a lot of good for the world if given an opportunity.”
He said he wanted to see a “meeting of the minds where we could solve this problem and correct that stereotype.”
Then former Burien City Council candidate Ed Dacy said the homeless problem in the city isn’t the homeless themselves, but “it is the aggressive panhandling”that needs to be addressed.
City Hall and the Library
Goodspaceguy said the main floor of the City Hall should be kept open 24 hours a day so the homeless in the area would have access to toilet facilities. He said protection could be from the officers at the nearby Burien Police headquarters.
Robbie Howell said she the librarians have to handle people who leave food messes on tables and of unusual people who are attract to the Burien Library, including one wearing horns that she passed on her way in to the meeting. She also mentioned that the Kent Rotary Club has procured a portable shower system they take from place to place so homeless can get showers.
Rachel Levine told the Council she had not intended to speak about the homeless problem until she had some “informal contact” with some of the people “changing out by the fence by the Skatepark”ear where she was participating in t’ai chi this summer.
“We were never harassed, they were never in our place, they never came over and tried to panhandle us. I don’t know if it was the good sunshine or the good feeling. Some of the people I want to give credit to are the police and the people who went over and checked with (the homeless) very respectfully and it was a good situation â€¦ because it was not raining. What’s going to happen to people who are homeless when the weather gets really bad and the people don’t have a place to be inside?” She said she wanted to thank everybody “for looking out for us in the park and making sure everybody was safe.”
More than 29 homeless in Burien
City Manager Kamuron Gurol provided a city staff report with general information on the issue of homelessness, noting that on â€œany given night, there are over 9,000 people living homeless in King County.
“The 2014 King County One Night count found 3,117 men, women, and children without shelter, an increase of about 400 people from last year’s count,” the city report said. While the count did not include number for Burien, “In January, King County Library System counted 29 people at two Burien library sites. The number of homeless people in Burien is likely more than 29 as indicated by the high number of homeless people being served by non-profit and government agencies in and around Burien.”
The report said, “City staff met with residents and business owners who have expressed concerns regarding public safety and sanitation issues with homeless living and staying around the Burien Annex Park and the City Hall/Library area. Issues being discussed include littering, verbal and physical assaults, thefts, drug uses and others.”
Working with homeless
The Council heard from John Gilvar of Public Health Seattle and King County who manages the mobile medical program that assists homeless people and targets people “in crisis” in the south county area.
He said over half of the “unsheltered people” they serve have “unrelated health issues” which include “mental illness or substance use issues or a combination of both.”
This makes servicing the homeless difficult, and he added that there is a “dearth of shelter beds” in the South King County area.
Jean Blackburn, the Highline Public Schools homeless assistance liaison, says her job it is to identify homeless students and provide whatever support is necessary to keep them stable and in their school of origin “even if their homeless parents move around. Transportation is provided from wherever they are to the Highline schools they were attending, even if they now live in Kent, or Tacoma or Shoreline.
“The two school districts share the cost,” she said.
Her job is to ensure stability but also ensure all children can enroll in school even if their parents cannot provide the data usually required by the school district.
Numbers of homeless students in Burien have gone up, Blackburn said.
Maybe 400 in Burien?
“In 2013 we ended up district-wide with 917 homeless children, 330 lived in Burien,”she said. This school year, she said they have 939 homeless district-wide, and 336 homeless children live in Burien. For the coming year, she said he numbers appear to be up about 100 children.
Asked by Councilmember Nancy Tosta if the schools see children homeless year after year, Blackburn said they have many that are.
“We recognize the names,” she said.
And, Blackburn added, she thinks the number of homeless children is much larger because some live with others or did not report their homelessness to school officials.
Patrick Foutz of Transform Burien says his group works with the homeless and provides two meals a week to those in need, about 30 or 40 people who live outside with no shelter at all.
“That’s not all the homeless in Burien, just the ones who come to us,” Foutz said. “We try to be part of the solution, but some in the community think we are part of the problem because we attract homeless – people come because we feed them. We are our brother’s keeper. If they are homeless, we feed them.”
He says they attempt to identify who the people are. One group includes people who are trying to overcome their problems and return to being contributors, others are the troublemakers whom they notify the police about. The third group, Foutz said, are those who are “not looking to be helped right now, have no place to stay and we donâ€™t know quite what to do with them.”
When these people get to the point they are completely destitute and seek help, he said they do what they can to get them into programs where they can have the help and support they need.
Police help homeless, too
Police Chief Scott Kimerer told the Council their job is to keep people safe.
“One thing we don’t do, and we never do, is to violate people’s rights,” said Kimerer, who has been chief of the Burien department for the past 11 years. “There is no law against homelessness. People have a right to be on public property.”
He said many homeless people are victimized and â€œwe need to look out for them, too.
“We need to modify peopleâ€™s behavior so everybody feels safe and is safe wherever they want to go in the city.”
Kimerer said he hears that his officers are â€œdoing good things in our communityâ€ and wants to know if there are problems.
Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz wanted to know if police ever tried to change the perceptions of citizens about some perhaps mentally disturbed people who are not a danger.
“Oh, we can certainly try. I don’t know that we ever will,” Kimerer said. “The best we can do, and I hope my officers do, is to explain to whoever felt that way that this is not criminal behavior.”