[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written and submitted by a verified resident. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of South King Media, nor its staff. The writer of this Letter has contributed $2,000 to “Burien Says Enough” (via Burien 2023), a Political Action Committee that has campaigned for Burien City Council candidates Linda Akey, Kevin Schilling and Alex Andrade. He has also contributed thousands more directly to Akey and Andrade.]
In previous statements I have made representing Town Square Dentistry to the local press, KIRO news, and Seattle radio shows, I criticized the City of Burien for creating a homeless camp in the Burien core next to our dental facility. I also stated that the city should be allowed to correct their mistakes, and so I would like to follow through and thank the city for correcting this problem. Town Square Dentistry would also like to thank our patients for continuing to show up for their appointments while witnessing unsanitary conditions near the facility. I feel grateful for the community support and appreciate the staff members of mine who have endured these difficult times. The perseverance of the community made me feel proud to have lived in the Burien area for over 60 years. During this trying time, we lost three employees; one of whom was previously homeless herself. She struggled to revisit the difficulties of being homeless and decided to leave Town Square Dentistry. Fortunately, our clinic has realized success for many years and has been able to survive these trials. Other businesses may have been less fortunate under these or similar circumstances.
One month after the camp on 152nd was created, one of my patients who is from another country said to me, “Doctor, I see you have a homeless camp next door and many of them are doing drugs in public. In my country, they would be in jail for a long time.” I replied that this would prove true in many other countries as well, not just his. He smiled at me and said that we live in America where we have freedom. That conversation gave me a new perspective regarding the reality of our freedom to do what we want, to be who we want, and believe what we want. Over the last 10 years, I’ve watched the gap become much wider and less defined in what we think is right and wrong, what’s ethical or unethical. Perhaps the problem of homelessness will compel us to rally around our differences and realize our one true commonality: freedom. The challenge then, would be balancing everyone’s freedoms and rights, whether it be the rights of the homeless or the rights of other citizens. I stand by my previous statement to the press that the homeless do have rights, but their rights should not supersede the rights of women, children, patients, elderly, businesses, and other citizens.
I want to use San Francisco as an example of a city with a large homeless issue. One can make the argument that San Francisco still has many vibrant qualities because it is a big city, and a big city can survive a problem such as homelessness. Smaller towns like Burien, on the other hand, are in greater danger of being destroyed by creating a homeless camp in its core area. As I reflect on past events, I think we can ask if it was wise for councilmember Cydney Moore to do exactly that: create a homeless camp in a small city core that quickly tripled in size. Cydney Moore’s statement at the city hall meeting advocated to keep the campers together because they were like family. She clearly has no experience with addiction, because would any professional addiction counselor advise keeping drug users together, encouraging one another’s habits, even if they were family? Her terminology and use of the word “family” sounds loving and supportive, but this line of thinking is actually nearsightedness that will kill people. Her big picture vision is blurred. True dysfunction was proven at a City Hall meeting in April as I watched the councilmember switch her vote back and forth in an attempt to delay what the city voted for. I’m thankful, however, for having witnessed this, because I’m more confident than ever that the Burien City Council needs new blood. Perhaps new candidates Linda Akey and Alex Andrade should be considered.
Having spent much time in Burien‘s core over the last 20 years, I can personally attest to hard work done by the police, especially in the last five years. However, since Burien contracts its police through King County, will the police honor what the small town council votes for? Or will they listen to the wishes of big city thinking instead? I question this because the Burien City Council voted in favor of leasing the property where the homeless camp resided to a local business, and this action should have allowed police to remove the campers since the property was officially leased, but the police had its hands tied and not allowed to remove the campers due to orders from King County. This occurred just a few weeks after the police had swept many campers out of Seattle in preparation for the All-Star game last summer. So we see that action can be taken, but only if it fits a certain agenda? It seems that priorities need to be examined.
Within the last few months, The Seattle Times published two articles worth mentioning. The first article reported that there had been three times as many deaths in King County in the last year from fentanyl than from gun violence and car accidents combined. The other article reported that in Portland, nearly 4,000 homeless were offered shelters and 2,500 refused. Reports from outreach workers helping to clear the camp next to our office reported that all campers were offered shelter, but many refused. Perhaps offering shelter was refused because drugs and alcohol are not allowed in many shelters. Should we ask if this is more of a drug and mental health problem, than a housing problem? A new DESC housing unit a block from Ambaum will soon house nearly 100 homeless. Will the local police hired by Burien (but controlled by Seattle and King County) enforce recent laws restricting public drug use, loitering, and camping in the Burien core? It has been reported that drug use inside the rooms of the brand new DESC unit near Ambaum will be allowed. Is allowing and making it very easy for drug use really helping and ensuring true compassion for the homeless? If future housing units are built in Burien, will drug use be allowed in them as well, and if not, can we count on that to be enforced? Should we wait on building additional housing units until we are positive that the Burien City Council can rely on police to enforce drug and camping laws and other laws that a small town Burien City Council votes for? Should incarceration be part of the solution for drug use? Many would agree that the war on drugs has harmed and incarcerated too many people, especially people of color. Additionally, since the city-created homeless camp formed, I’ve had three elderly female patients report that they feel jailed in their homes because this small city did not feel safe. Should an alternative police force be examined or will that change result in a worsened situation? A new Burien City Council will need to carefully and thoughtfully weigh out its options.
Whether new members are elected, or the existing members remain, we should put pressure on all members to produce. We should expect them to analyze and compare other towns, budgets, policing, safety, and their ability to take care of the homeless. If we do elect new councilmembers, let’s commission them to work hard and work together. Let’s encourage them to make Burien safer and more vibrant while creating or utilizing existing programs that will truly aid the homeless in enjoying their opportunities and freedoms.
– Randy Olson, D.D.S
Town Square, Dentistry
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