By Maureen Hoffmann Special to The B-Town Blog Twenty eight people (including 5 children) gathered at the Burien Library/City Hall meeting room to hear stories about homelessness, and to discuss approaches to diminishing the crisis on Wednesday night, Nov. 29. The first thing that struck me as I joined the circle of citizens was that not a single Burien City Councilmember – either current or newly-elected – was in attendance. Neither were any of the City Council candidates who had professed to be so passionate about the needs of our community. I was surprised and disappointed to see this missed opportunity for the beginning of conversation and collaboration. With all the hand-wringing and discord that we’ve witnessed concerning homelessness in Burien and what to do about it, I would have thought that our City Council would be represented at the meeting, and I certainly would have thought that at least one of the three new Councilmembers, that presented themselves as “progressives”, would have attended. The meeting was hosted and introduced by Kristine Sandy, the Adult Services Librarian at our Burien Library. The two speakers were Anitra Freeman (Real Change News Board Member) and George Sidwell, both part of the Homeless Speakers Bureau. Both Anitra and George have been homeless in recent years and, thankfully, are no longer. Anitra and George told their personal stories, how they became homeless, and how they surpassed that difficulty. From their experiences, and from their continued involvement with folks that are currently homeless, they offered insights into reasons and solutions. Homelessness is a balance between personal problems and resources. Reasons for homelessness:

  • Medical issues
  • Job loss
  • Domestic violence
  • Lack of social support
  • Other factors
Four essentials to getting out of homelessness:
  1. Community (most important, according to Anitra); Isolation in housing post-homelessness is often a reason for recurrence.
  2. Regular income.
  3. Affordable (subsidized?) housing 
(In approved encampments, there are actually many working poor. 
They simply cannot afford housing.)
  4. Medical care.
What is NOT helpful:
  • Camp sweeps = “Swept to Death”.
 Not enough shelter is available.
 Camp is the best they have. In a sweep, they lose all of their gear. 
“Without shelter, people die. With shelter, people live.”
What IS helpful:
  • #1: Involve homeless people in your own community.
  • Talk with and engage with the homeless.
  • Get to know homeless folks at some of the organized encampments.
  • Set up shelters or encampments at local churches.
  • Offer care packages of hygiene supplies and necessities such as: toothbrush and toothpaste, toilet paper, socks, handwarmers and sandwiches.
  • Offer day centers where they can come in, get warm, have a bite to eat.
  • Have the “staff” sit WITH the homeless, mingled, not separate.
  • Tell the homeless that they’re welcome to join activities around town.
  • Create a community task force (such as is present in Ballard and the U. District).
  • Most successful community groups have gone TO the homeless and ASKED them what they needed, what would be most helpful, and then INVOLVED THEM in making those things happen.
  • Initiate “Cross Class” collaboration – essentially the Haves and the Have Nots working TOGETHER toward solutions. “Go by your heart” to determine your involvement.
Burien is certainly not the only city facing the issue of homelessness. There should be a larger, regional and national dialogue. We should all compare notes. I am hopeful that the City of Burien will reach out to the folks at Real Change and start a dialogue toward solutions. Until then, though, on a daily basis, how do we EACH engage with the homeless around us? How will YOU reach out? For further information, please contact:
  • Anitra Freeman, Real Change News Board Member ( 
Anitra Freeman was homeless when she was recruited to the Real Change editorial committee by Wes Browning in 1996. With a background in computer programming and in writing workshops, Anitra was soon leading workshops in writing and computer skills for vendors and other homeless adults. Anitra lives in the International District and enjoys reading, writing, and gardening. She has been on the Board of Directors of the Low Income Housing Institute; is President of the Board of Directors of Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE); and is a member of the Executive Committee of the Women’s Housing Equality & Enhancement League (WHEEL), a grassroots organizing project of homeless and formerly homeless women. Anitra joined the Real Change Board of Directors in 2009.
  • Maria Elena Ramirez, Real Change News Board Member (
): Maria Elena Ramirez was born and raised in Othello, WA. An avid Real Change reader since 1994, Maria Elena appreciates what a community asset Real Change is and has been an active volunteer since September of 2012. Time spent in the vendor program quickly led to her getting to know and befriending many of the vendors. She is interested in supporting the advocacy program by providing them with many skills and support needed, to have their voice heard regarding unmet social services needs by their elected officials.

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