Here’s our recap of the Burien City Council meeting held on Monday night, June 12, 2023:
The meeting began with a proclamation in recognition of Juneteenth. On June 19, 1865, the people of the southern states were finally informed that all people had the right to be free, and Juneteenth has been celebrated there ever since. In 2021 the state of Washington and city of Burien made Juneteenth an official holiday. City offices will be closed on June 19th.
Homelessness Services Presentation
Burien uses a coordinated care model for addressing service needs in the community, and at this meeting council heard presentations by several organizations that work in the city to address various aspects of homelessness. Representatives summed up how they serve the community, where they see the greatest need, and provided some information on how they are funded.
LEAD began a dozen years ago as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, to address open air drug use in Belltown. Their focus has changed over the years, now the letters often stand for Let Everyone Advance with Dignity. LEAD is funded by King County. They aim to improve public safety and address criminal behavior by diverting people into treatment rather than sending them through the criminal justice system.
REACH (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health) builds relationships with homeless individuals, and links them to services like food, clothing, and medical needs. REACH is a program of Evergreen Treatment Services, and collaborates with many other service professionals to help high-needs populations. The program is nationally funded by the CDC.
Burien Police Department Co-Response Team is dispatched to persons in crisis. The team helps people navigate services and find access to programs that can assist them, and is funded by a grant from the county. King County Fire District Co-Response Team, also aiming to help people in need utilize local resources and find access to services, is funded by ARPA money.
Sound PATH (Projects for Assistance in the Transition from Homelessness) helps people in King County find services. They have worked in King County for 15 years, and have been contracted by Burien since 2017. Outreach workers spend a lot of time making connections with people at Transform Burien and the Burien Transit Center.
Seattle King County Mobile Medical Unit is part of the Public Health Department’s HCHN (Healthcare for the Homeless Network), and they receive $10,000 per year in city funding. They have thousands of clients, providing free dental services, STD testing and treatment, as well as family planning, and chemical dependency assistance. The mobile medical unit provided 101 visits in Burien in 2022, and 55% of dental patients are then linked to additional services. They said building relationships with the homeless population has been harder since Covid, due to fewer organizations providing a regular hot meal or other gathering space where individuals feel comfortable and outreach workers can contact them.
Salvation Army Street Level uses a vehicular outreach program to ultimately move folks into permanent housing. They serve all of King County. Since launching the mobile program in 2019, they say they have permanently housed over 1500 individuals, with less than a 2.5% rate of recidivism. 61 of those people were from Burien, with another 6 locals going into detox or recovery programs.
Navos is an award winning mental health and wellness center that provides evidence based treatment and recovery services. They serve children and adults, and partner with many other local agencies. Rumors that Navos is closing its doors are untrue, though the Public Health portion of the clinic will be closing.
One speaker said that the official number of homeless people in King County is 13,000, though aid organizations estimate it to be much higher, at 40,000. This, they said, is the third highest rate in the US. Councilmember Sarah Moore calculated that this works out to 2% of all King County residents living homeless, or 1 in every 50 people. Another presenter said the best strategy to help the homeless population is to leave it to the professionals. These agencies have the resources, connections and experience to help homeless people get the services they need and eventually move into permanent housing.
Public comments at this meeting asked council to do more to address the homelessness issue. Many said crime around the makeshift camp area is destroying local businesses and making people want to move. Response often doesn’t come quickly enough when individuals are behaving violently or unpredictably, and people are left scared and feeling helpless. Others reiterated that the homeless need more services and care, and that encampments are unsafe inside the camps as well as outside. One speaker said if someone is acting violently, to call 911 instead of the non-emergency line, since the response will be much quicker as they automatically have your location information.
City Manager Adolfo Bailon mentioned the huge rise in costs to clean up the ever-increasing graffiti around the city. He said that staff is looking into ways to restrict availability of spray paint in Burien, in partnership with surrounding cities. This wouldn’t come in the form of a ban, but simply locked cases of the paints at stores that carry them, and possibly an age restriction for purchasing spray paint.
One commenter said that recent history shows a spray paint ban won’t work, as Chicago has had a huge increase in the cost of graffiti removal after banning it. Spokane embraced a different approach, utilizing artists as well as volunteer cleanups, and has seen a much better outcome.
Potential Increase in Development Fees
Burien needs to increase revenue in a few areas in order to balance the budget and keep up with inflation, and development fees are set to rise. According to the presentation, Burien’s development fees are assessed to applicants for potential land development, and our rates are right in the middle of the fees charged by surrounding cities. Some of our fees are below the actual cost to the city, meaning Burien is subsidizing those developments. Council voted to direct the city manager to return with legislation around raising the fee rates. It was a nearly unanimous vote, with Councilmember Stephanie Mora abstaining.