By Martin Barrett
Allowing human beings to live in sub-human conditions, addicted to drugs and alcohol, with no hope or help to fulfill their potential, is cruel.
In a recent communication with City Manager Adolfo Bailon regarding tent encampments in Burien on February 27, 2023, he wrote as follows:
“I don’t disagree that there may be beds available within shelters throughout our region. Those beds can be made available to people from any of our surrounding communities (Burien, Seatac, Normandy Park, Des Moines, Seattle, etc.) The availability of a few beds to a few homeless people living in Burien does mean that there is a bed/space available to all homeless people living in Burien. In that lies the crux of the problem. Burien would have to guarantee the availability of a bed/space within a shelter or location for all homeless people living/camping in Burien in order to meet the federal criteria to implement a ban on camping on public lands.”
I believe Mr. Bailon meant to say, “The availability of a few beds to a few homeless people living in Burien does not mean that there is a bed/space available to all homeless people living in Burien.”
“I will share with you that I am not an attorney. I rely on the expertise of my City Attorney and legal counsel from our state-wide municipal associations and their national counterparts,” says Mr. Bailon.
And therein lies the crux of the issue for Burien: The legal counsel City Manager Bailon receives from City Attorney Garmon Newsom II is inconsistent and out of step with other cities in Puget Sound.
Following the Martin v Boise decision in September 2018, the then City Manager Brian Wilson, in partnership with current Burien Police Chief Ted Boe, put together Navigation Teams. These teams identified roughly 35 homeless individuals living in downtown Burien, often in alleys and storefronts. This did not include all of Burien’s homeless at the time; (no city could ever know all the homeless in their city.)
Navigation Teams interviewed each person living on the street in downtown Burien. They sought to understand the journey and experiences that brought the homeless person to the street. A plan was made for each person, to address the root cause issues and identify the path forward and the organization best-suited to help that individual. A date for picking up the homeless person and taking them to the facility best equipped to assist in the restoration of that person was communicated to him. In other words, every one of the people they were working with would have a bed, roof, good food, and the help needed to free them from the addictive tyranny they were under or the mental illness they were experiencing; they would start down the road of restoring their personal dignity and become a contributing member of society.
The vans went out on the day slated for the pickup, but most of the street people were gone. Only a few individuals remained to be taken to a place of healing; the rest chose instead to move to a place where they could continue their drug use.
Did former City Manager Brian Wilson violate federal law? Did he identify absolutely every homeless person in Burien before carrying out the plan to help the 35? Is it possible to know every homeless person in Burien at any given moment (especially with the transfer bus station on 148th, which daily drops off new homeless)?
Does Seattle have space for all the homeless folks when they clear a camp? How about Tacoma? Everett? Bellingham? The State of Washington? Are all these cities in violation of federal criteria? These government entities have completed sweeps using Navigation Teams to help place the homeless in places of healing and restore public lands.
It was painful to see human beings so terribly addicted to a substance that was killing them (especially when help was literally at their tent door.) But healing is hard and painful work. Like most folks, the homeless will choose the least painful way. For those addicted or mentally distressed to choose to heal, the pain of staying in the brokenness must exceed the pain it takes to be healed. Many healthy people cannot make that choice. How does an addicted or mentally sick person sum up that courage? It either comes through the law or may take many moves until they are tired of drifting.
It also takes courage on the part of the people of Burien. The politically correct thinking in our region is to continue to take away the consequences of addiction until the only consequence left is death. In the law, the courts, or policing, we decriminalize the drugs, the selling, and their use. Then when they are so damaged and broken that they cannot possibly find their way out without required rehabilitation, we put them in a DESC warehouse to die in a place where we do not see them. How, then, can we pat ourselves on the back for being so compassionate? We give them a room to die in rather than hope and help in a functional, caring community.
But we are Burien. We are better than political correctness! We seek healing for people; like good parents, we know that consequences are the key to learning. If we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and our own kids, we will not let them continue to destroy themselves and call it compassion. Love does not do that. Neither can we. We call upon our leaders to do the right thing for the broken and for our city!