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City Needs to Act Before Burien Business Association Moves Forward to Address Homeless Crisis

by Martin Barrett

Last week the Burien Business Association met with 20 civic leaders (business, government, and nonprofit leaders) to share their vision for solving the homeless dilemma in Burien. At that meeting, Robyn Desimone, BBA’s Executive Director and local business owner, and Dan Mathews, Town Square developer, introduced Kristine Moreland, who walked through the outstanding results the team of faith-based and nonprofit organizations has achieved (Begin at minute 36). 

This week I had an opportunity to sit down with the leadership of the Burien Business Association to hear an update on what has transpired in the last seven days.

“The BBA is determined in its purpose to solve this problem in a compassionate way that creates paths forward for those on the street. We are business people. When we see something effective that meets a need, we pursue it. We have seen the results of the faith and nonprofit efforts. They are truly helping. They are getting the campers, most of whom have life-crushing drug and mental issues, into detox and long-term treatment. This is good for them, and this is good for our city. It is cruel to see a solution and then ignore it while countless people in our city suffer (not just the tent folks but the business owners). We are a small, family-owned business community. This is destroying their lives also”, said Desimone.

“And yet we cannot expend energy and funds where it is not going to be effective. Right now, it is ‘wack a mole’ out there. Just look at the camp village in front of the Grocery Outlet. Yes, they have been vacated from the private side of the tree line, but the public side is full of tents, and the campers are just dumping their garbage on the private side. Before we can expend the resources, the city must pass a camping ban on public property just like Kent, Seatac, and other cities around us have”, said Mathews.

Tent encampments outside of Grocery Outlet. Photo by Martin Barrett. 

Mathews was referring to past experiences and a pattern that has developed. In the lead-up to sweeping both the City Hall site and the Dog Park at 6th and 152nd, faith and nonprofit workers, through their diligent and daily relationship building, have come to agreements with many of the campers to start the hard road of recovery by going to detox and rehab facilities. However, city officials Charles Schaefer and Cydney Moore encouraged the campers to take the easy way of continued drug use and showed them other public lands where they could set up a camp. Most of the campers did, and days, weeks, and months of hard work by truly compassionate people were scuttled. 

Mathews and Desimone emphasized the need to move quickly. “Other places are now aware of this team of effective workers and are seeking to draw them away from Burien to address their city’s needs,” according to Mathews. “We have weeks, not months, to get moving on this! This kind of talent is rare. Neither the homeless nor our city can afford to squander this,” said Desimone.

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