SeattleUnivHomelessStudy15 by Jack Mayne Burien was added to a Seattle University study of laws affecting the homeless because of the city’s passage of ordinances 606 and 621, the study said upon its release Wednesday (May 6). The university law school study said the local ordinances here and around the state “are laws punishing behaviors that are necessary for survival.” The study is called the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project and was conducted and written by law students Scott MacDonald and Justin Olson, and supervised by Professor Sara Rankin of the Seattle University School of Law. “For those without shelter, there is no alternative but to conduct these behaviors in public,” the study said. “Camping outdoors, urinating in public, sitting or lying down on sidewalks – these laws target homeless people either in practice or outright.” Requests for comment from Professor Rankin were not responded to immediately and Burien City Manager Kamuron Gurol said through a spokesperson that the city was studying the report before commenting. The spokesperson added, “The report’s authors did not contact City staff regarding their analysis or findings.” Also included in the study were Seattle, Spokane, Vancouver, Bellingham, Auburn, Pasco and 65 others. Burien’s National Attention The SU study says Burien received national attention for recently adopting ordinances that “allows police officers to issue a trespass warning for any conduct that is ‘dangerous, unsafe, illegal, or unreasonably disruptive to other uses of public property.’” That could include using electronic or communication devices “in a manner that is unreasonably disruptive to others, wearing insufficient clothing for the location, or even having body odor that is unreasonably offensive to others.” These “trespass violations allow police to banish individuals from an area for up to seven days after the first warning, and then up to a year for any subsequent warnings.” The individual receiving the warning need not be charged, tried, or convicted of any crime. That got the SU study group’s attention. Negative Response The immediate response to the Burien trespass ordinance was “overwhelmingly negative,” the Seattle University study report said. The report says Burien Evangelical Church Pastor Mike Alben, “criticized the treatment of homeless individuals as affording them ‘little to no dignity.’” The study says the Seattle office of the American Civil Liberties Union sent Burien a letter urging repeal of the law for being “counterproductive as a matter of policy and unconstitutional.” Then the SU study says Burien City Manager Kamuron Gurol “responded eight days later in a statement that defended the constitutionality of the ordinance and pointed to the guaranteed right of appeal as ‘an essential feature of the ordinance.’” Not good enough, says the university study report. “The appeals process is available only to individuals receiving a trespass warning for a period longer than seven days,” and it must be made in writing “with a copy of the warning delivered to the city’s legal department.” The city did repeal a part of the ordinance relating to body odor, but retained all the rest of the law. Punishment is worrisome The SU report says the Burien ordinances have ranges of punishment of fines from $50 to punishment that “is far more worrisome.” Within the criminalization ordinances themselves, punishments range from fines of $50 up to $250 for each violation. But, says the report, because Burien “shall have discretionary authority to enforce a violation as either a civil infraction … or as a criminal misdemeanor…” That could mean a sentence including 90 days in jail and $1,000 in fines, the law student’s study said. Also the ordinance “allows a police officer to banish an individual from a public place without the individual being charged, tried, or convicted of any crime or infraction.” That means it could be used to “prevent a wide variety of behaviors, including obstruction of sidewalks, bathing in public waters, urinating/defecating in public, and creating a nuisance through body odor.” So Burien Police have the power to both banish a person and to cite them for offenses. “Without more specific data on the enforcement … researchers are unable to shed light on how enforcement practices relate to existing legal and policy concerns about Burien’s controversial law.” Banish ‘visible poverty’ With “overlapping ordinances, covering such categories as obstruction of sidewalks, bathing in public waters, urinating/defecating in public, and creating body odor,” Burien has “codified expansive measures aimed at removing visible poverty.” This “discriminatory enforcement” puts Burien “under heavy scrutiny by the local community and homeless rights advocates statewide.” Across the state Burien was just one part of the Seattle University study that said that, until it was conducted, no one knew if the laws were numerous and how and even if they were enforced. The study of 72 Washington cities shows they “increasingly criminalize homelessness by outlawing necessary, life-sustaining activities.” Since 2000, the SU study says “Washington cities have enacted new ordinances targeting homelessness in 288 new ways, increasing the amount of criminalization by more than 50 percent compared to prior years,” and laws that limit or prohibit sitting or standing in a public place are on the books of 78 percent of state cities as are laws that prohibit or limit sleeping in public places. And the University study says that while most cities criminalize urination and defecation in public, “cities typically fail to provide sufficient access to reasonable alternatives such as 24-hour restrooms and hygiene centers “Whether you live in a small town or a large metropolis, municipalities are likely to aggressively criminalize homelessness,” the report says.

Read The B-Town Blog’s extensive coverage of this topic here.

Senior Reporter Jack Mayne passed away in December, 2021. In his honor we have created the Jack Mayne Journalism Scholarship.

36 replies on “Controversial ordinances drew Burien into study on criminalizing the homeless”

  1. I really appreciate the author bringing up the urinating and defecating in public part. That behavior is the deal breaker for me as it crosses way too many lines. When you are faced with dropping your pants in public that alone should institute some self initiative to drag yourself out of the gutter and seek assistance, available through many services and avenues for free. Enough Said!

  2. Burien only made the news because Lauren Berkowitz spent her time campaigning publicly against her other council members on this issue and violating Roberts Rules of Order during meetings. She worked with her ex-campaign manager to help fuel the national media with comments about Burien. Most of the media comments about Burien( 98%) came from commenters who didn’t live in the city, never read the ordinances and knew nothing about what the city and police were really doing about trespass in Burien. Ms. Berkowitz was a part of the group of protesters she encouraged to come to Burien and disturb the council meetings. She dressed and pictured herself in a SAFE t-shirt and black protest clothing to show solidarity with SAFE at council meetings, against her council members. She did speaking engagement against her own city for the media hype.
    Interestingly many cities (as noted in the study) and public agencies have like kinds of ordinances about trespass but oh golly they haven’t made the national news and protesters have not filled their Council chambers weekly as happened in Burien.
    It really hard to make much of a comment on this study because it is so new and has not been fully analyzed for its merits as of yet. I have only read the Abstract and not the full paper. However based on other papers I have read on homelessness, they all have the same common flaws;
    1. they all define homelessness differently and don’t make a clear difference between the small real homeless populations and the elective homeless who just don’t want to follow any rules of society
    2. the differences between those who really have no resources available to them and those who refuse to seek out the resources that are offered
    3. kids who have elected to be homeless because they don’t want to follow parental rules vs. those who really have no resources and options
    4. those who are very temporary homeless and not really homeless and the small group of true chronic homeless
    5. those who are fakers and criminals that are hiding out and have embedded themselves in the homeless as a cover or hideout and
    6. those who are mental health clients or substance addicted and refuse any treatment.
    These laws and ordinances really criminalize trespassers but the real question is how many of these trespassers are really the homeless? Everyone who urinates or defecates in public is not homeless. Everyone who sleeps off a drug dose or a drunk in a park is not homeless. Everyone who vomits on themselves and then goes into the library bathroom and disrobes to wash up is not homeless. This topic the criminalization of homelessness is trendy right but lacks clear set definitions to take accurate measures on. And because the USA allows people to make their own choices about life styles, no one has been or will ever be able to end the so called homelessness issue.

    1. Thank you for so eloquently pointing out the absolute betrayal that CM Lauren B. has subjected her fellow Council members too, and all the residents as well.

  3. An expensive private university producing a document criticizing a city where most if these attorneys will probably never desire to reside.

    1. Jack, I am an SU Law School grad and an attorney. I live in Burien, and I am offended by Burien’s 606 and 621.

      1. Sounds like you work at the same law firm as L.B. and maybe even hired her because of the like minded left wing rhetoric coming from you both.

  4. Raised in Burien and have watched it’s growth and changes for over 60 years. I feel the way to bring a positive change to the current ‘homeless’ crisis would be to provide bathroom, showering and laundry services at low or no fees. We do not have to re-invent or pay for a study. Take a look at such services that are already be provided in Seattle and duplicate them. I agree that there are ‘homeless’ and there are ‘homeless want-a-be’s’. None the less, if you provide these services for those who truly need them and allow these people a way to retain some dignity and prepare for job interviews, etc. you will have a better footing to deal with those who are using the ‘homeless cloak’ for whatever purpose they are about. Let us be reminded of our greatness, and do something fair for our citizens in a bit of need. Bathrooms, showers, washer and dryers are doable. Surely there ways to fund this.

    1. With that potential scenario in mind one might think it prudent to enforce a limited number of visits available. Just so the benefits are not abused. Nobody will attempt to better their situation if given a free ride indefinitely.

      1. In my experience, “Nobody will attempt to better their situation if given a free ride indefinitely.” is not true. There are those who will attempt to abuse any situation. But, they are the few and can be dealt with case by case. They tend to move on when made to follow simple rules of common courtesy. As I mentioned above, there are low/no fee bathroom, shower and laundry services in Seattle that can be used as templates for creating a working service in our area. Here is a link to one such service:
        The need for pubic restrooms in the greater Burien area, to me is another matter. I will speak to it below.

  5. With respect to other posters, I disagree. Burien made the news because it passed a martial-law type ordinance that let police banish people from the PUBLIC library for such absurd things as body odor. I doubt there’s anything else like that anywhere. And, since I’m guessing all the other posters here read the complete report like I did, I assume you saw the law that let the city treat any law as a ticket or a full-on crime, however it likes? It’s right there, online, in the city’s laws.
    As for places to shower and wash up, that’s a good idea. As far as limiting the number of times people use them, that’s just ridiculous. Do you have a max quota on your home bathroom? But of course that’s different, because you have a job that pays enough to afford both rent and food. We should help these people, but still punish them for not being able to find work, right?
    What I like about this paper is that it uses reports and information that anyone can get. Anyone. I haven’t seen any of the critics here link to sources or data to support what they’re throwing out. When one side provides hard evidence that even I can go get myself, and the other side just uses rhetoric, I know who I’m agreeing with.

    1. I am not for limiting bathroom use but I am trying to limit drug use. How do you suppose that is handled? Rainy fall days when your kid needs to pee and Joe is in the can for 45 minutes shooting up…..Are the people who pay for it not allowed to use it? Where is the evidence on drug use and becoming homeless? Drug use is a choice and your choices have direct results. You want to provide but what are we providing? Where is the evidence that they even care about where they use the bathroom? Ever gone camping and there is an out house? You would rather crap in the trees than sit in that death hut. I like random bathrooms but who monitors them that they are being used for bathrooms?
      Enjoy sunny Burien people, we are all neighbors.

      1. You bring-up very real problems. They are being dealt with in some areas by roaming security guards, as well as frequent cleanings and on-site humans providing other services who can alert the security guards when needed. This costs money, but so does having police sitting in their cars monitoring certain other locations. It’s part of what our society now needs to have public facilities. Having single toilet bathrooms in rather public outdoor areas like public plazas or inside buildings adjacent to a manned public service center tends to help keep bathrooms used for what they were intended.

    2. So using the logic of more data as the pointer of the truth meter, I suppose you would also believe anything you read online from Fox news, right?

  6. What about the public health hazards caused by urinating and defecating in public??
    Frankly I’m sick and tired of walking through urine covered sidewalks every day. Safeway Plaza is one of the nastiest places.
    We need people who are not afraid to step up and bring this town out of the gutters.

    1. Read the article. Public urination and defecation go down when bathrooms are provided. When people are banned from public facilities and they have no where else to go… well when nature calls it must be answered – even if in a Safeway parking lot.

      1. So Joey, you are ok with me whipping it out in front of your kids and wizzing on your fence? There are no public restrooms provided on your street and when nature calls there is no wrong number!!

      2. “well when nature calls it must be answered – even if in a Safeway parking lot.”
        Will this quote be used in you upcoming campaign literature?

      3. Joey.. Your comment about it being ok to deficate in the safeway parking lot “if you have to go” ranks right up there with your worst off the wall crazy comments on this blog.
        Whats really mind boggling is you actually think you have a chance at at city council seat!

  7. Can a single city effectively address our regional homelessness issues? No.
    Will there always be people willing to mooch? Yes.
    Will there always be people who cause you discomfort without being violent or dangerous? Yes
    Do these conditions above justify not holding elected representatives at all levels responsible for enraging in honest efforts to find a humane approach to help everyone have a safe and civil public environment? No.
    Thank you to everyone who offers hope, aid, or encouragement to moving us to a more just and equitable society.
    Consider “Housing First”

  8. “Together, the group came up with the notion of providing a roof over the heads of people in need and then offering the services that could help them kick their addictions and land jobs, the Post reported.” Giving the homeless housing, then aid works, and it is cost effective. Much less tax money spent to give housing and then aid, then is wasted in the crisis management and jail method used currently. Yes, this approach would work in Burien, and allow those in need to have some dignity.

  9. I feel hopeless about the situation. While we constantly worry about the street people’s rights, our town is getting turned into a run down place. this is why folks who care about their environment move to small cleaner towns that also represent home owners.

  10. The spokesperson added, “The report’s authors did not contact City staff regarding their analysis or findings.”
    Could this be because they had a certain Burien Council Memeber in this program at SU???

  11. With regard to public restrooms, simply put we need more of them for all of our citizens, not just the homeless. In this day, such facilities will need to be monitored and cleaned often, requiring employees or security guards. Yes this costs money, but let’s get real about our coffee drinking, aging population! We need clean handy restrooms.
    With regard to public restrooms, perhaps we could start by working with King County Metro (who say they now have money) to open the bathrooms that are already in place at the Burien Transit Center. Why not open the customer service office as well and have an on-site security guard for at least regular business hours? This could go a long ways toward cleaning up the Safeway area and providing security at the transit center, as well as public restrooms that are kept clean. A wonderful example of how this is done right, is the Olympia, WA Transit Center – which was voted best in the country 2 years ago.
    Metro plopped this big facility in our midst, we need to demand that it now help with our needs for security and public restrooms as the project once implied it would.

    1. How about the property management company of the entire Safeway complex starts to enforce their rules and regulations regarding trespassing, loitering and customer use only policy. That is private property and subject to enforcement by a company who cares about public perception, find out who it is and call them up as I intend to do.

  12. Resident says:
    May 7, 2015 at 10:03 am- notice the time on this comment
    Notice that Scott posted this story at approximately 5:30 pm on May 6, 2015 and by 10:03am on May 7, 2015 Resident says claims to have downloaded, read and checked the references, data and factual sources for this 65 page paper. Just by the time factor alone, it appears that Resident says was most probably one of the authors or contributors to this paper?
    Most of the commenters on this paper/study know very little about homelessness research, strategies to improve the situation as slight as they have been successful and what real funding is available.
    All of the strategies that have been slightly successful in the USA have required lots of money, a State wide strategy and lots of private donors money and resources. They have targeted only a slender % of the homeless populations statewide. Foundations and churches have been the major donors to these strategies. Washington and King County have coordinated very little with the small cities. The churches in the State have in no way contributed major amounts of money to this issue nor have they opened their buildings during the day, at nights or during the harsh weather. Most of their positions have been, the homeless can’t use our church buildings.
    Someone mentioned “Housing First” but this blogger doesn’t really know the details on funding and what strategies are necessary for this model. Furthermore, Housing First doesn’t take in all of those that are now considered to be the homeless population. To improve this homeless situation a Statewide model must be developed and implemented or you just keep moving the homeless from one city to another as we have just seen with the clearing going on in Sea Tac. In the the past with the clearing of Seattle’s and White Center’s homeless encampments those move out simply move on to other cities close by. Get your churches to open their buildings during the day to the homeless, let them use your restrooms and install showers. Let your unused building spaces be used for shelters like Lake Burien Pres. Church has done. I haven’t seen the compassionate bloggerson this site organizing a program like this with their churches. Even Transform Burien doesn’t have any of its member churches advocating to let any of the homeless into their church buildings.

    1. What you are describing would be the function of a mission, not a church. Chuches would also have to allocate funds to support homeless use of their facilities.

  13. The article is, at least, interesting. I’m curious, however, how out of this:
    Population (in 2010): 33,313
    How they come to a statement like this:
    “Public response to the new ordinance was overwhelmingly negative.”
    They, essentially, support this argument with a statement from one pastor (not a representation of the public at large) and an organization – the ACLU (which is again not a representation of Burien citizens’ opinion on the law.
    I’d be interesting to know, which I don’t see in there, whether or not they actually did any sort of public opinion polling or analysis outside of a few subjective anecdotes.

    1. It’s easier to just look up stories on the “innernet” instead of having to go out and do some actual footwork to find out the real concerns of the Burien residents.

  14. Lauren Berkowitz met with this group from the Seattle Law school a couple of times to provide information about Burien and prior to this study being released. It was at one of this SU meetings that she contacted the ACLU also. So how impartial was this study?
    Also Jenny, a chuch is just a group of people that have gathered. The real estate and material possesions that churches get to own tax free are a gift given to them with the assumption that they will do good service in the community to compensate for not paying taxes. Opening your building restrooms once a week to the citizens that live in your city hardly constitutes a mission. But it was a good try to get Burien churches off the hook from doing what churches should do with their building spaces.

    1. Buck, when churches or any other organization ‘opens its doors’ for the public, they have the same concerns about security and cleaning, etc. as you or I would. Sadly, churches have become a target of vandals in recent years. Little is left of the regard the general public once gave to the sanctity of church grounds.
      You have a rather unique view of what ‘church’ means, that seems based on how you would like to see them operate. In fact, churches vary greatly in what they are about. I tend to think this is a good thing! Many of the older faiths are quite hard up, in spite of their tax free status. (Which is not provided for the reasons you state, but rather to allow people to have a place to gather and follow their faith.) With little funds, they none the less often have ‘missions’, and often these missions are for the poor. Other missions can include such things as helping widows or children after a death in the family, or health needs to people in third world countries.. So, just as any individual or group needs to follow the dictates of a budget, so do most churches. Are there churches with deep pocket? Are there churches that are less about faith and more about wealth? Of course. Just like the homeless, churches are quite varied. It is better to get to know them individually, rather than to depict them as all being the same.

  15. To those that speak of housing first – I would like to point to the 40’s-60’s housing projects that turned to gang invested slum lands that bred violence, addicts and abandoned children. Chicago – LA – White Center are among examples that most people will recognize.
    Just an example that as a society we have been down that road before and this issue is worse now than then. Supporting a “housing” first approach has huge costs associated with it, not just monetarily, but for future generations that grow up in that environment.
    So, solutions? Let’s start with rebuilding the family unit. Encourage community churches. Free birth control in all forms. For ESL learners, make sure that they actually know English before they start school. If they don’t, provide a school setting where they can learn it as a stand alone institution before integrating into main stream schools. Drug test all welfare recipients. Kick off abusers of the system. Teach ethics in schools, bring back blue collar electives (ex: shop ) Bring back the American way of hard work & patriotism.
    None of these solutions are politically correct, but are logical and reasonable. In this ULTRA politically correct society, we will crumble from within because we are essentially at war with ourselves due to apathy and entitlement that the liberal agenda has pushed at us for most of our lives. Here we are now with a huge portion of society that is now entitled to live off the hard work of the dwindling tax paying base.

    1. Though I agree with some of what you have said, I wonder why you choose to pick-up the Anti-Liberals Flag and wave it about at the end. Could you ever imagine a liberal who has worked hard their whole life, raised a large family who were all law abiding, paid their taxes, and served their country in times of war?
      It is time for us to accept that there are people in this country who vote differently than we do, and see the world differently than we do, but who are still our fellow citizens in this country trying to help when called upon and be of service to their families, community and country.
      If we can give-up this habit of naming people with a slogan that makes them our enemy when in fact they are far from it, we will have come a long way to setting our house straight. Stop for a moment and think of our military, do you not think that there are so called liberals in our armed forces? Are you not thankful to them for their service?
      If we state what we are for and how we think it might be accomplished and let other people do the same, we may come up with some working solutions.

    2. Speaking about low income housing projects, when do the towers go up at the Burien City Center?

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