[EDITOR’S NOTEThe following is a Letter to the Editor, submitted by a verified resident. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of South King Media, nor its staff:]

On Friday, March 31, 2023, the Burien Condominium Association and their private security company executed a sweep of an encampment of unhoused people at the city hall/library property.

Several people’s belongings were destroyed, but all the campers agreed to leave peacefully and the police did not cite anyone for trespassing. This sweep was done after a decision by the public/private hybrid Burien Condo Association to enforce a camping ban on the property.

As March 31 approached and the city still had no beds to offer to the campers, city and county employees and outreach teams, charities, faith groups, and individuals had all been making efforts to offer the campers somewhere to safely relocate. Nevertheless, the city has found itself unable to match the capacity of the need. This is not intended to place the blame on any one person or entity, although I am aware that plenty of blame and speculation has been rampant as has the targeted harassment of lawmakers and city staff, in addition to the abuse and dehumanization already hurled at the homeless. But our current situation as a city, as a community, is caused by decades, generations of choices.

It is unfortunate that our community is targeted by would-be influencers who try to inflame us against each other and against some of our most vulnerable members. Personal smears against staff and electeds are really ugly and unacceptable. 

The fact that unhoused individuals have identified a patch of public land where they have a legal right to exist in peace is indeed evidence of something upsetting, and I’m glad to see the community so engaged. I just hope that we retain enough focus to remember that the outrage here is the people without homes, not the hurt feelings of the people whose trip to the dog patch was interrupted by the sight of someone who needs a shower. The thing to be upset about is not who informed them of their legal rights, but the fact of their rights being violated. 

The Burien police illegally harassed and threatened the individuals, initiating multiple unnecessary encounters over the course of Friday morning at the second location, and if not for the intervention of informed citizens and, ultimately, Chief Boe, could have resulted in further displacement. Thank you Chief for your leadership, responsibility, and for taking personal involvement in the outreach and peaceful/civil conduction of the sweep at city hall, but I’m highly concerned that your officers are trained to interact with the public in this way in public spaces until informed to stop. Incorrectly identifying the patch of grass as a park. The unconcerned [[shrug]] when asked where they could sleep. “Well they can go to Seattle.” Of course no apology when they finally accepted they had no legal reason to justify the interaction and left. We are told that our police are desperately understaffed, that the 50%+ of the city’s budget that is our police contract is not enough – and yet the police have nothing better to do than make unnecessary and hostile interactions like this with people just for existing in public? 

This is not how we create community safety. No wonder our neighbors think “the city of Burien hates us.” Pushing our unhoused neighbors to the next, less-visible spot down the road is not a solution, nor is sending them to another city.

Public property belongs to the people, and if we can’t offer a bed, the least the city could offer is a spot of grass or a patch of concrete on which to pitch a tent. We’ve criminalized camping in public parks, and now at the city hall complex, and already there is talk of using zoning to criminalize and privatize the latest spot of public property that our neighbors who sleep outside have found.

The Courts have made it clear in Martin v. Boise (2018) that homelessness in itself is not a crime, that “as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.” 

In advance of the sweep, every camper was informed of their rights to camp on publicly owned property, except for the carveout for city Parks, and now not the city hall/library complex since it is not entirely “public”. Again, the outrage here isn’t that unhoused people found a patch of public grass that they are legally entitled to sleep on (until the city finds another loophole or makes another public-private deal to circumvent the law)–the real outrage is that our neighbors continue to have nowhere better to go than to sleep outside. We need emergency housing. Shelter housing. Housing of all kinds. Wraparound services. And we need to clarify and reaffirm our commitments and partnerships to work together, all of us, to meet the critical needs of our community.

In the meantime, we have the choice to be hospitable or inhospitable to our neighbors.

Sweeping our unhoused neighbors away from another spot of land is not a solution. Our community was told that the ban on tent camping only applied to the city hall complex because of the legal fiction called a condo association, which somehow converts two public, taxpayer-owned entities into private property for the sake of being able to prevent camping. 


Nobody is happy that these folks are sleeping outside. But let’s be angry about the right thing, and work together on a tangible solution that isn’t just pushing them to the next publicly owned patch of grass. Don’t insult this process by creating a new legal fiction to rezone our neighbors away, again. It’s cruel, and it’s performative, and it is enacted with the threat of yet another (implied) violent, traumatic encounter with the police.

Our community is failing its members and it is not any one person’s fault. We have choices to bring further healing or further harm. Let’s focus on the real issues and work together to help.

– Daniel Martin 

Daniel Martin’s community affiliations include the King County Community Advisory Commission for Law Enforcement Oversight (CACLEO), the Burien 2044 Advisory Commission, the Burien Human Services Commission, Burien People Power, Community Visions, and Burien Severe Weather Shelter. The sentiments in this letter represent a personal opinion and do not speak for any entity or agency. Daniel can be reached at cacleo6@kingcounty.gov.

EDITOR’S NOTEDo you have an opinion you’d like to share with our highly engaged local Readers? If so, please email your Letter to the Editor to scott@southkingmedia.com and, pending review and verification that you’re a real human being, we may publish it. Letter writers must use their full names and cite sources – as well as provide an address and phone number (NOT for publication but for verification purposes).

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

3 replies on “LETTER: ‘Sweeping our unhoused neighbors away from another spot of land is not a solution’”

  1. People don’t necessarily have an Issue with Homelessness , it’s the Crime , Fires , Junk , Garbage , Shootings , nearby Homes , Businesses , Vehicles getting Broken into for theft of items that are traded or sold for money to buy more Drugs ! Where there’s Homeless there’s Crime and said Break-ins and People are Beyond Tired of it ! Many have Brains so fried , they’re unable to function in Society and need to be placed into a Mental Institution , some may come back to ” Life ” thru rehab , if their Brains aren’t completely Fried

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