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Burien residents and business owners want city to take 'harder stance' on homeless

Many Burien business owners say they've had to add fences, locks and razor wire around their buildings to keep crime away. They believe the city is being too soft on the homeless and the crime some homeless bring to the downtown area. (Photo: KOMO News)

BURIEN, Wash. - Richard Doane shows off what he calls his "bum fence" he spent $1,000 to construct.

“Every morning there would be the heroin wrappers and the cigarette butts and the shoplifted items, garbage,” said Doane, the owner of Burien Auto Repair. “It would take my assistant 20 minutes to clean up each day."

He said it’s an expense he didn’t want, but found it necessary to protect his property from the homeless who would camp out in the back.

“I have guys sleeping in the alcove across the street, middle of the day, I personally want to shoot them with a hose,” said Doane.

Security cameras, locked dumpsters, more fencing to protect customer parking and newly installed razor wire on rooftops are examples what business owners say are unwanted, but necessary expenses now needed to protect against crime. And they are fed up.

“I hate to be callous about the homeless but I think you have to take a harder stance,” said Doane. “Because if you are softy, they are going to take advantage of you."

Doane is just one of many who believe Burien is being too soft on the homeless and the crime some homeless bring to the downtown area.

At a March 6 city council meeting, dozens of people took advantage of the public comment period to stress to councilmembers to take a harder stance toward crime, with several blaming it on the homeless, gangs and drug addicts.

“Our children are picking up needles in public spaces and you are letting them,” said one woman. “We are enabling criminal behavior and I’m asking you to please stop."

“We all have this burning desire to just live your life with peace and safety and let your grandkids come over and take them down to the park,” Jill Esau told the council. “ We can’t do that."

Then there’s Sandi, who spends her days inside the Burien Library to say warm, charge her batteries for her nightly return to her tent pitched near Sea-Tac Airport.

“There’s no place for people to sleep, nothing, they just sleep all over place,” said Sandi.

She said she’s been on a wait list for housing assistance with the City of Seattle for three years, but has a dog and health issues which prevent her from accepting some forms of housing.

She is aware of the harsh talk toward the homeless in Burien, but would like to see the city offer up a day shelter space.

“The library really doesn't like us being here either,” said Sandi. “I keep thinking once the library is gone there's no place for anybody to go."

One March 20, the Burien City Council will begin discussing its next moves on how to balance the complaints from people like Doane and Green with the needs of Sandi, without the dollars Seattle, its big neighbor to the north, is devoting.

“The Council will discuss general homelessness issues and put potential solutions on the table,” Interim Burien City Manager Tony Piasecki said in a statement.

Business owners who sympathize with Doane, but did not want to be identified say they see how Seattle’s downtown is being overrun with tents and want the council to adopt harder line policies so it doesn’t happen in Burien.

“Burien should put an effort into collecting them [the homeless] and recommending them to a central Seattle location,” said Doane.

He thinks a bus ticket to Seattle might be a good idea.

“If you offer help to someone and they don't want to take it, well they should get out of town," he said.

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