[EDITOR’S NOTEThe 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.]

Greetings Mr. Mayor and Burien City Council,

Without shelter, people die. We’ve had one of the deadliest years on record, as the intersecting crises of the housing shortage, the opioid epidemic, and the tainted illicit drug supply collide with growing instability from climate change, decades of underinvestment in public services, and over-investment in policing, resulting in at least 6,000 more people than there are homes for them to live in in King County.

I am Daniel Martin, vice president of the Burien Community Support Coalition. After almost a year of our city failing to designate a place for its unhoused residents to sleep in peace while engaging in harmful sweeps, we organized and formed a 501c3 nonprofit to oversee a sanctioned, 24/7 supervised tent encampment at Sunnydale Village. I have had the honor of my life to serve as site manager there this winter.

Burien spends over half of its general fund money on policing and jails, and yet we know that police are the least effective, most expensive tools to use in a housing crisis.

When it comes to homelessness, Burien tells America’s story”, The Seattle Times reported on Sunday. The city has spent the last year-plus enabling sweep after sweep of its unhoused residents, while failing to collaborate with regional partners in establishing somewhere, anywhere, for Burienites experiencing homelessness to exist in peace.

In response to our city government’s refusal to help, our community has stepped up to be the change we needed to see. The Burien Community Support Coalition has been operating the camp at Sunnydale Village since November on a shoestring budget, using volunteer staffing, and entirely funded by private donations. In these 90 days, we have provided services to over 100 individuals experiencing homelessness in Burien, with a final count of 65 permanent residents, 5 dogs and one cat as of the time our camp closed last Monday.

Sunnydale Village was an experiment in community that intentionally blurred the lines between “us” and “them”, centering the dignity and autonomy of each individual experiencing homelessness. We have been able to connect residents with family members, outreach workers, case managers, and housing advocates. We have helped secure a space in detox for others. Others have been added to a housing waitlist. At least a handful are waiting for a spot in permanent supportive housing at DESC.

I can’t overstate what a difference it makes for people to have somewhere safe, dry, and stable to return to, to store their belongings, to begin to recover from the trauma of existing in a city that doesn’t want them.

We’ve been building relationships with representatives from our emergency services: Burien Police, King County Sheriff’s Office, plus their mental health co-responders (REACH) and arrest diversion program (LEAD), North Highline Fire Department, King County Public Health, King County mobile medical team, as well as many other nonprofits, faith-based and non-faith based groups and individuals.

There are some very loud voices in the public discourse that may have formed a poor initial impression of us. As you may know, there is a lot of dark money and think tank funded advocacy that is heavily invested in preventing any services or housing to the “undeserving” poor, including in our community an agitator and self-styled independent journalist who was fired by KOMO News for shooting a commercial for the Proud Boys.

I would like to offer to meet with you, Mr. Mayor, Mr. Manager, other councilmembers, in person. I would like to turn down the volume and speak humanely and practically about where people experiencing homelessness in Burien can go. Let’s discuss whether there is any sort of agreement we can come to, to oversee a sanctioned encampment at a new location. It is not sustainable to continue to say “no” without an option to say “yes” to.

Thank you and kind regards,
Daniel Martin
VP, Burien Community Support Coalition
Site Manager, Sunnydale Village

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 provide an address and phone number (NOT for publication but for verification purposes). Read our updated Letter to the Editor policy here.

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