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Joseph’s Journey: Gunshots fired at Ambaum encampment

by Hannah Sutherland

Joseph Riverson arrived at the Ambaum homeless encampment with pizza and sodas just hours after gunshots had been fired. The camping tents lining the boulevard were spotted with bullet holes.

“At first, I thought it was fireworks, but you could hear the noise of the bullets,” said Alexis, an encampment resident.

At least six gunshots were heard at the Ambaum homeless encampment early in the morning of June 23, 2023. No one was shot or injured, but the source of the shots remains unknown.

Gunshots holes dot the bottom of a tent on Ambaum and 12th Avenue on Friday, June 23, 2023.

Riverson has been working with the growing homeless population in Burien with his nonprofit, Samaritan Worldview, since 2022.

“Getting people off drugs is just one level of success. Getting them into a house is another level of success,” Riverson said. “But if we do not address the needs of their whole selves, we are setting them up on a shaky foundation.”

Riverson once camped out with people experiencing homelessness for three days, pitching his own tent to get close contact with them. For five weeks after that, he went to the encampments daily to offer assistance, and continued going frequently in weeks following.

“Our goal is to come in and establish relationships with our homeless brothers and sisters,” Riverson said.  “We come with the answer to all their problems, and that is Jesus Christ, as well as the resources to help them get better.”

During this time, residents and city officials have argued extensively over the best solution for this ongoing problem. 

Regarding Friday’s shooting, many believed the shots came from residential houses on that street. “A lot of people are really aggressive. They honk and yell at us. We’re just trying to take care of this spot and take care of our people,” Alexis said.

Riverson and several others from Hope Christian Church continue to bring relief to the homeless population of Burien.

“They know it’s unfortunate. They know they got themselves in that situation. They know people are not happy with them.

At the same time, they know they have serious issues and that not everyone wants to get help. It takes patience, love, and care to help these guys.”

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