Burien officials pushed back against recent statements by the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) regarding the city’s amended camping ordinance, with a contentious response released just after 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Mar. 12, 2024.

Burien contends that the Sheriff’s Office misrepresented the ordinance’s intent and effect during its Monday, March 11 press conference (read and see a video of that in our previous coverage).

The city maintains that the ordinance, BMC 9.85.150, does not criminalize homelessness. They say it only prohibits camping on public property when shelter beds are available.

The city claims they sought collaboration with the KCSO on the ordinance and homelessness issues in general. This included discussions about revising the ordinance language and the map outlining restricted camping areas. These discussions reportedly began in late 2023 and continued into February, 2024.

A key point of contention is KCSO’s refusal to enforce the ordinance entirely. Burien argues this violates their interlocal agreement, and has also stopped paying the county for its police services.

In its statement (see full text below), the city denies allegations they would not work with service providers for the unhoused. They say the current issue stems from a lack of improvement in services offered by previous providers, prompting them to terminate a contract. Burien says they continue to rely on other service providers.

Regarding the map, Burien clarifies it restricts camping in certain areas, particularly near schools and daycares, to protect those facilities. They deny claims the map would be constantly changed without notice.

Burien acknowledges the legal limitations on cities to provide housing but emphasizes their desire to see King County take a more proactive role in offering shelters and treatment options.

On the question of constitutionality, Burien cites Ninth Circuit Court rulings in Martin v. Boise and Johnson v. Grants Pass to argue their ordinance complies with legal precedent. They believe the ordinance does not criminalize homelessness but instead regulates camping locations.

Burien concludes by asserting their ordinance is lawful and that King County’s refusal to enforce it violates their interlocal agreement.

“This crucial and necessary press release sets the record straight and ensures the public has accurate information,” the city said.

Here’s full text of the city’s statement:

Burien Counters Misinformation in Press Conference from King County Sheriff

“Burien is deeply concerned about the misinformation, partial truths, and inaccuracies presented during the King County Sheriff’s press conference on March 11, 2024. This crucial and necessary press release sets the record straight and ensures the public has accurate information.  

“Let Burien be unequivocal:  Burien does not intend to criminalize homelessness. The truth is, Burien Municipal Code (BMC) 9.85.150, in each of its iterations, only considers camping on public property a crime if shelter or beds are available.  That has never changed.

“The City of Burien has always sought a true partnership with the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO).  A partnership rooted in trust and collaboration, not a relationship based on a perceived superiority of King County.  To that end, Burien has collaborated with King County concerning homelessness, incidents involving the unhoused, and BMC 9.85.150. This is true despite a previous incident where King County issued an inflammatory press release during the collaboration process to address the Sheriff’s refusal to assist with moving the unhoused. Even after that betrayal, Burien has engaged with the KCSO and the same King County legal counsel involved in the press release regarding the revised language for the ordinance and the map. These discussions, demonstrating Burien’s proactive approach, occurred as early as late 2023 and in February 2024. Not only was King County aware that Burien sought to amend BMC 9.85.150 based at least in part on the Burien Police Chief’s input, but Burien delayed amending the then-existing version of the ordinance at his request. 

“Contrary to the suggestions made during the press conference, Burien has never stated that it would not have service providers. The key distinction between the current iteration of BMC 9.85.150 and prior versions is not the absence of service providers, as was incorrectly implied, but rather King County’s decision to stop enforcing all aspects of BMC 9.85.150. 

“For months, Burien has openly discussed the need to improve service providers’ availability and services offered to the unhoused based on King County deputies’ requests. However, after seeing no meaningful change, Burien terminated its contract with a service provider.  Burien’s efforts to refer people to services have been performed with the prior iterations of the ordinance, and nothing in this ordinance prohibits those same efforts. At this time, Burien continues to rely on other service providers to assist the unhoused.

“In addition, the map does not prohibit people from “living.”  The map makes clear that camping is not allowed everywhere in Burien.  More specifically, the map protects schools, daycares, etc., from the negative secondary effects that sometimes exist where the unhoused camp.  Burien never stated that the map would be constantly changed without notice or that there would be enforcement without notice to the public. Burien could not ask King County, and King County would not agree to enforce a prohibition that no one had notice of. The City Manager’s authority to update the map allows Burien to adjust the map as needed since the homeless population is transient, and schools, daycare, etc., sometimes close permanently or open for business. 

“Unfortunately, King County repeatedly suggests that Burien must house the unhoused.  To be clear, while Burien strives to help every unhoused person obtain what they need, according to the United States Supreme Court, there is no fundamental right to housing, and cities are under no obligation to provide adequate housing (Lindsey v. Normet, 405 U.S. 56, page 74; and Deshaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189, page 259).  Of course, Burien would appreciate King County being proactive in providing housing, shelters, treatment facilities, and beds for its unhoused residents in Burien and throughout King County.

“King County asserts that its unilateral determination that Burien’s ordinance was unconstitutional is based on the Ninth Circuit decisions in Martin v. Boise and Johnson v. Grants Pass.  How King County concluded that is unclear.  In Martin v. Boise, despite finding a constitutional violation under the specific facts in that case, the Ninth Circuit emphasized that it did not mandate that cities “provide sufficient shelter for the homeless, or allow anyone who wishes to sit, lie, or sleep on the streets . . . at any time and at any place.” See Martin v. Boise, 920 F.3d 584, page 617. 

“In Johnson v. Grants Pass, the Ninth Circuit has clarified that “Martin is not to be interpreted to hold that the anti-camping ordinances were properly enjoined in their entirety … nor does it prohibit the City from attempting other solutions to the homelessness issue.” See Johnson v. Grants Pass, 72 F.4th 868, page 895.  

“The Ninth Circuit in Johnson, in addition to explaining that it is not unlawful or even criminalization of homelessness to have an anti-camping ban, stated, “we hold simply that it ‘unconstitutional to [punish] simply sleeping somewhere in public if one has nowhere else to do so.’” Johnson v. Grants Pass, page 896.   

“It is important to clarify that Burien’s ordinance does not punish or criminalize individuals for being unhoused. The ordinance asks individuals to sleep in areas not close to schools, daycares, etc.  If they choose not to sleep in these areas, assuming no beds or shelters are available, there is no crime. This non-punitive approach aligns with the Ninth Circuit’s decisions in Johnson v. Grants Pass and Martin v. Boise and does not violate any constitutional provisions. Further, this is not dissimilar to the prohibition on camping in parks that King County may still enforce.

“Burien’s ordinance is constitutionally valid, and King County is violating the Interlocal Agreement by willfully failing to enforce any aspect of it.”
 
More information (from the city):

• “Burien Responds to Complaint Filed by King County Sheriff’s Office
• “City Responds to King County Sheriff’s Office Directive to Not Enforce Public Camping Ordinance
• “Ordinance No. 832 Frequently Asked Questions
• “Interlocal Agreement Between King County and the City of Burien Relating to Law Enforcement Services

Since 2007, The B-Town Blog is Burien’s multiple award-winning hyperlocal news/events website dedicated to independent journalism.

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8 Comments

  1. Please get these folks off the main streets in downtown Burien. Move them to shelters, tiny house, villages, or parks, specifically designed for camping. I know that substance abuse creates a difficult situation however, these folks need to obey rules just like the rest of society.

  2. The time has come for Burien’s citizens to halt King County’s bullying tactics. Incompetent King County Council members and Washington legislators created Seattle’s Homeless Disaster and they are trying to foist their mess on Burien. We need to file a class action lawsuit against the King County Council and the KCSO.

  3. Un-Welcome to Burien
    NO VACANCY.

    Dear Council, please bring city signage and social media into line with city policy.

    “A vibrant and creative community, as long as you have a residential address, where the residents embrace isolation, celebrate arts and culture, as long as the less fortunate aren’t visible, promote vitality, when we can shoo the homeless out of Burien, and treasure the environment, without homeless people in it.”

    A bit of satire and a lot of truth. This council crosses the lines on unconstitutional laws all the time. Going as far back as I can remember, a leading member of the homeless outreach group around Burien, grabbing his AR15 during the George Floyd protests and BLM to “go stop the looting in Burien along side the cops”. And a couple of council members praised him for his actions as unstable, questionably immoral as they were since it was property crimes he was referring to stopping with his pickup, bbq, and AR15 in downtown Burien
    Til it was realized he was talking about shooting homeless over property crimes… then the backpedal started, in a 500meter Olympic Style backwards sprint…
    The City of Burien was offered more the a millon dollars and tiny homes, to house the homeless. Pick a site and it’s yours. And they refused, instead putting unconstitutional laws in place and expecting KCSO to blindly follow unlawful orders. While “Those” laws are being challenged the council wants to pile on even more unconstitutional laws and again expects the KCSO to follow them like good troops.

    When I was growing up there was a whole series of commercials about how “Kids have rights too, they’re not just for adults.”

    Humans in any form have inalienable rights to life, using police to take away shelter as a basic human necessity, takes away a person’s right to life. Jailing a person for sleeping, takes away their liberty.
    Humans have inalienable rights…
    Unless you’re in Burien.
    No Vacancies -UnHoused need not apply!
    How long are Burien residents going to allow the council to do anything they please? Lawful or Not?

  4. The City of Burien has gone above and beyond in crafting this reply and they are entirely correct per all standing law cases and rulings. Dow pulled a power play as his empire just shows more decline, all his efforts of solving anything just go from bad to worse as usual.

  5. What’s the difference if you live in a tent or a supplied shack when your addiction runs rampant? Absolutely nothing! Until society comes to realize it’s all about drugs no matter your domicile it’s a waste of time advocating for shelter over treatment.

  6. What you put into life is what you get out of it, the choice is yours and if you merely don’t want to cooperate, listen, or get help, or be apart of a great community then deal with the consequences or move on!

  7. Imagine not knowing if your being homeless will be a crime from day to day because some days there are beds available, and some days there aren’t.

    Next, imagine trying to get to a shelter at night, but only on the days that they’re available, when most homeless people don’t have access to Transit.

    This would create a large collection of homeless people in close proximity to the shelters due to the necessity to live within the walking distance, and a severe amount of anxiety and unknowing from day to day as one tried to ascertain whether or not they have a place to stay for the night or if they’ll be arrested for failing to check the bed status every single day.

    This is not a tenable position for the homeless. This is not a viable solution for the homelessness problem. All it is is a fix that looks good on paper, but has no practical function within the realities of life for homeless person, other than to randomly arrest people and make their lives exceedingly uncertain and anxiety inducing.

    Beds in shelters are not a viable solution, and I would posit that the only viable solution is *permanent* housing.

    1. “Imagine picking up after yourself out of respect for others, imagine choosing to sleep in a area out of respect for yourself and others too, imagine hiding things like illegal drug use if you so “need” it to survive/cope, imagine using the bathroom in a non public area out of respect for others and cleanliness/respect of the city you want to live in…

      Everyone I know is all for helping the homeless that want to be helped, obviously a better sustainable solution must be created for homelessness in general – a better system with boundaries needs be in place. BUT the homeless individuals that are abusing this to their advantage because they know they can’t legally get into trouble while having zero accountability or respect for others is a problem. (due to no boundaries)

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