Here’s our recap of the Burien City Council Special Meeting held on Tuesday, May 30, 2023.
Emotions were running high at this special meeting to address concerns around the homeless encampment on the corner of SW 152nd and 6th Ave SW in downtown Burien. So many community members showed up to express concerns that there was a spillover viewing room on the third floor for them to watch from, as well as to speak during public comments. Over 40 people spoke on this hot button issue, with public comments running nearly an hour.
Some community members complained of the overreach of City Manager Adolfo Bailon in how he dealt with the county in recent communications. They expressed concern that he damaged the relationship with King County, and even called for council not to renew his contract as city manager. Others said that his response was appropriate, and that the county has been remiss in their responsibilities to address homelessness as a regional issue that is unfairly burdening Burien.
Other community members said that it is not the government’s job to provide housing, and that the Martin vs Boise case only specifies that cities can’t arrest people sleeping in public – not that they have to allow for public camping. They said the planned lease of the lot should proceed, which would evict the campers.
Several people said that they or their children do not feel safe in the area anymore, as drug use, trespassing, and other crimes have increased. A Safeway manager described the homeless population stealing and using drugs in and around her store, causing shoppers to feel unsafe.
Multiple speakers read passages from the bible, advocating helping neighbors in need. They said leasing the lot from under the campers was not the right way to proceed. One mentioned that building a tiny home village would be a quick and affordable solution.
Councilmember Hugo Garcia tried to win support for a plan that involved the city breaking a lease with Burien Toyota for a city-owned lot on SW 150th Street, and moving the encampment there. This would relocate the camp further from residential areas. According to his proposal, King County would then give Burien $1 million towards fencing, security, and support services of this camp, and also provide a location for Toyota to use instead so they could continue to do business as usual. This was the first that many people had heard of the county offering any money in support of the issue. City Manager Bailon later said that the money has only been on the table for a few days.
Another part of Garcia’s plan is Highline United Methodist Church offering to provide their lot for the homeless to use as a camp for a month, to fill the gap between moving off the current lot and the Toyota lot becoming available. This church has served as a severe weather shelter during the past couple of years when the homeless population needed respite from extreme summer or winter weather. Church Pastor Jenny Partch was present at the meeting and on board with the plan.
The plan failed in a 4–3 vote, presumably because the mayor, deputy mayor, and Councilmembers Matta and Mora do not want a homeless encampment anywhere in the city. Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling, who voted no on this plan, explained that churches are always welcome to take the group of homeless in, and the city would never interfere with that. He has worked to lighten requirements so that more churches would be able to house the homeless, should they wish. This is the first time any church has stepped up to offer their lot for the campers.
Also, he said that anytime the county wants to give the city $1 million dollars, they are ready to take it. He reiterated that every single person in the camp has been offered shelter of various types, multiple times, and they do not want it. While each individual has the right to deny services, the city has a right to utilize city property as it sees fit.
Councilmember Cydney Moore said she was desperate for any solution that doesn’t involve displacing the campers with nowhere for them to go. She also said the United Methodist Church’s offer of space for the campers was contingent on the city providing a more permanent space in a month, since the church can’t take them long term.
Councilmember Stephanie Mora asked for council support to create an anti-camping ordinance for all city parks, sidewalks, and alleyways, but no one else on council supported the idea.
In the end, the council could not pass any motion on this issue, but a lease of the property to Burien CARES has been finalized.
No word was given on when a sweep might happen, but according to signs posted earlier this week, the deadline for campers to move themselves and their belongings from the SW 152nd lot is 11:59 p.m. tonight – Wednesday, May 31, 2023.