Home Hope vs. Homelessness Burien Second Biggest Spender on Homelessness

Burien Second Biggest Spender on Homelessness

by Martin Barrett

A recent Seattle Times article reports that the City of Burien is the second biggest spender in a percentage of the budget in King County. The Seattle Times claims that Burien spends 1.1% of the city budget, $485,752 or $9 per resident addressing homelessness. Burien places second only to Seattle at 1.7% of the budget. 

The actual spending gap between King County leader Seattle and Burien is large. Seattle spends $160 per resident on homeless services. Seattle also has the largest population of homelessness. 

Looking at the numbers, it does not appear that the current approach is working. The more spent, the more the problem seems to grow. One potential reason might be that we are addressing the issue incorrectly and with too little compassion. We have a drug epidemic feeding a homeless crisis. In the past, homelessness was a more temporary experience; there was motivation to get off the streets, but in today’s drug culture, many homeless people prefer to stay on the streets where drugs are easy to obtain and use, versus going to shelters that prohibit drug use. Shelters with a”no-drug policy” provide the first step to exiting the chronic homeless cycle. 

An example in Burien is Riverton Heights Men’s Shelter. Riverton Heights, a Union Gospel Mission facility, has a 75-80% success rate in freeing men from addiction. The average stay at the shelter is about eight months. Few come back after getting clean and experiencing successful life outside. This means their rooms turn over 1. 4 times per year. This creates space for new residents and takes folks off the streets. 

Unfortunately, organizations like DESC create long-term residents that tie up bed space for years. “For the vast majority of people, their DESC apartment is a permanent home until they pass away or need a higher level of care,” according to the DESC FAQ for Burien. Getting firm numbers from DESC is hard. The average time of a resident’s stay at a DESC facility has been reported to be eight years. Given the preceding DESC statement, we can assume that is when many die. We cannot get numbers on DESC’s effectiveness in helping residents come clean and free from the tyranny of drugs. On a zoom call, when DESC was promoted as a good thing for Burien, an 8% success rate was mentioned, not a mark of success. (If that number is inaccurate, The Gem welcomes DESCs’ provision of verified data.) The low-barrier policy that allows open drug and alcohol use creates a sustainable place for addicts to use them. It removes the consequences of drug use until the only consequence left is death. Is that genuine compassion? 

We hope that genuine compassion wins the day in Burien! This faux compassion is killing people. We do not spend too little in Burien on helping the homeless. We need a different approach. Our city leadership needs to have the courage that can save lives! 

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