by Burien Mayor Sofia Aragon
For Immediate Release: A Camping ban is the Unfortunate Result of Public Safety Issues in Encampments
Homelessness is the greatest inequity of our time, and the Burien City Council takes it very seriously. A camping ban is not the first strategy to address homelessness by the Burien City Council. The council approved these affordable housing projects in the last four years: an expansion of Habitat for Humanity, EcoThrive Cottages, DESC permanent supportive housing, and mixed market rate and affordable housing apartments. Last night, we approved an expansion of Mary’s Place, a shelter for women and children.
Over the last several weeks, there have been numerous accounts of drug trafficking and sex trafficking occurring around the Ambaum Encampment, as residents and drivers have reported the growing number of tents in the area. The Ambaum encampment sits on an island meant to encourage pedestrian traffic, particularly since the installation of the new RapidRide. The encampment is an impediment to that, and the school district has had to reroute where children are to walk.
The encampment is a result of the regional homelessness crisis. Since Seattle declared homelessness an emergency seven years ago, the situation has worsened. Four years ago, affordable housing and income inequality were to blame. According to the King County Opioid Dashboard, there are three major groups impacted by this public health crisis: Seattle, South King County (which includes Burien), and the homeless. Recent reports of the fentanyl epidemic, set to exceed deaths caused by COVID, are seldom mentioned by advocates for the homeless. Ignoring the fentanyl crisis will only exacerbate the problems this drug is causing both among the unhoused and housed.
It’s my hope that the camping ban will be one of three strategies adopted by the Burien City Council. A second strategy is enhanced outreach, where homeless people are offered mental health, substance use treatment, or stable housing paired with data that tracks where the unhoused are placed. Success with the encampment in front of the Grocery Outlet is an example.
A third strategy is the temporary use of pallet homes and one million dollars offered by King County on a lot offered by a developer in Burien. I support a pallet home village that is drug-free so that residents have the clear mind to make the voluntary decision we require of them to move towards greater stability. Currently, the pallet shelter village is temporarily necessary unless more funding or a subsequent plan is identified.
During a tour of a village in Seattle, we were informed that the cost to operate one is over a million dollars a year and that the money would only support operating the homes. The estimated costs do not include mental health, substance use, or other care that residents will surely need.
I’m baffled by those who testified last night to allow the Ambaum encampment to just be and saddened by the shared stories of living through homelessness. To those who advocate for encampments—the council is open to hearing alternative solutions that provide those unhoused mental health or substance use treatment and stable housing. We need to find a solution that balances the needs of residents and businesses while meeting the needs of those struggling with homelessness.
King County Council Candidate for District 8