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City Council Meeting Displays Disfunction

By Martin Barrett

Over 100 residents and business owners showed up at the April 10 Burien City Council Special Session to address the homeless crisis and the potential censure of Charles Schaefer.

Thirty-nine of the attendees spoke. Nine spoke in support of Charles Schaefer and against his censorship; several praised his efforts. There were also those calling for the removal of Schaefer and council member Cyndey Moore for their role in moving the tent campsite to a new city location without city direction! As in the past few weeks, the emotions on both sides of the homeless issue were high.

Joseph Riverson, who had pitched a tent for three nights in the new camp at 152nd and 6th, reported the results of Project 614, which brought together 4 churches and nonprofits. This group of volunteers built relationships and got 27 street campers into detox and long-term treatment centers over 4 weeks. Riverson shared that being in the homeless camp was revealing and concerning. (This concern did not arise because of the campers’ behavior but from people driving by and shouting obscenities, as well as making threats.) One evening someone drove through the camping area; he said the tension was growing between city residents vs. campers, and it needed to be addressed before it turned into something nobody wanted.

City Attorney Garmon Newsom II began the city reports by giving contrasts and comparisons of other Washington cities regarding how each has responded to the Martin vs. Boise decision, which states that a city may not remove a person camping if there is no shelter for them to go to. Newsom then repeated the exercise regarding the Blake decision, which moved possession of a controlled substance from a class 3 felony to a misdemeanor.

The meeting moved forward in addressing the homeless crisis. “Seeing someone with a mental health issue is sad. But seeing some guy with his pants down and his privates hanging out is not normal. Who is responsible for mental health in this city?” asked council member Jimmy Matta. City Manager Bailon said they rely on the county; the city is in contact with it almost daily.

Kevin Schilling said he does not favor sending the campers to the park, which is for everyone’s use. Schilling also said he was frustrated that churches have not stepped up to house these folks.

However, it is public knowledge that Seth Thomas of Hope Church sent all city council members an email asking for help with moving forward in serving the campers. Schilling did not reply or offer to assist.

Council member Stephanie Mora sought to see if a different way of thinking might provide a solution. Mora called in Aaron Burkhalter to find out why LEAD and other city and county organizations could not find placement for the campers on the March 31 deadline.

Burkhalter said they were able to get one couple placed into housing. They put seven others into shelter beds. “Few people turn down the shelter,” said Burkhalter. “Case managers are brokers, looking for resources and housing,” added Burkhalter.

Mora then asked Kristine Moreland to share her experience in Burien over the past 3 weeks. With 16 years of street work experience, Moreland was asked by the group of churches to help. Moreland personally moved 14 campers (part of the total 27 referred to above) in one week. “We moved 14 humans into places where they could be leveled so they can get healed”, said Moreland. Moreland continued on to say that in the next two weeks, she plans to move everyone still on the street to a good place of healing. “I will not get paid. While the city is so focused on who will pay, who is liable, and pointing fingers, we are actually helping these humans! They are people, and if we really cared, we would get them out of this place and into healing”, added Moreland.

Rather than taking in what was shared, Hugo Garcia immediately took the conversation and moved back to look at the same failed policies. Mayor Sofia Aragon shared her frustration that the county has not stepped up to help, recycling the same thinking. (Thus, Mayor Aragon demonstrated a stunning lack of genuinely listening.) Aragon had just heard that the churches and nonprofits had moved 27 campers off the street in the last three weeks. Her response to this news was to discount the professional and experienced volunteers, saying they could not solve the problem. (Aragon immediately returned to the finger-pointing and the same quagmire of failed thinking.) The Mayor’s comments were inconsistent with the evening’s reports by the churches and nonprofits who moved 3 times as many street campers into shelters and program facilities as the paid city and county workers who are bound with red tape. The council returned to the same conversation cycle, which has yielded meager results. At no point did the council engage with the groups that are actually achieving results. Sadly, there was no effort to partner with the churches and nonprofits.

The conversation again returned to finding a piece of property; Bailon said they are talking with the county and identifying properties owned by the county that may be available for the city to use. The parking lot by the courthouse is not available. “The county seeks to make the courthouse available to everyone, and there is concern that the tent camp may keep away people coming to the court as jurors or folks seeking help,” said Bailon. He added, “We will know shortly, once the county completes its due diligence.”

Bailon was asked what the county needs to do to say “yes” and have a lot ready. “They have to work with the agency and any organization that works with the lot and let them know that the camp will inhibit the lot,” said Bailon. The county will require a service provider at the site 24 hours daily. The county will share in some liability as the city would. Additionally, the city will also need to get permits. Much of the city’s work depends on the locations and requirements.

Cydney Moore proposed using the move to temporarily suspend the camping law in the west end of the annex for 90 days. (This location is across the street from a daycare.) There would be a portapotty on site. Moore said she had contacted several service providers who would take this on. It would be fenced, which she believed would keep it from swelling to something larger. Bailon noted that Moores’s proposal had not been brought to the parks department.

Kevin Schilling said he does not favor sending the campers to the park, which is for everyone’s use.

The motion was voted down.

Councilman Schilling also said he was frustrated that churches have not stepped up to house these folks.

However, it is public knowledge that Seth Thomas of Hope Church sent all city council members an email asking for help with moving forward in serving the campers. Schilling did not reply to him or offer to assist.

The city property on 150th between 1st and 4th was brought forward. However, this is not an option since it is currently under lease to a private party.

Matta moved that the city manager bring to the council a plan of advertising to lease the property at 152nd and 6th or make a plan for the city to turn it into a park. Mora seconded it. The motion passed 4-3.

Matta moved to direct the city manager to utilize the $400,000 from the Humans Services fund (through ARPA), working with King County to establish a shelter in Burien managed by a third-party service provider. C. Moore seconded it.

At 11:20, Matta moved to carry the Schaefer portion of the agenda to another meeting. The meeting adjourned. No progress was made on the homeless crisis.

Below is a link to a video about homelessness and the City of Burien by Jonathon Choe posted on twitter:

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