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Burien groups call on King County to address homeless crisis

A group of businesses, clergy, law enforcement, outreach workers and some Burien city leaders are calling on King County for help to address the homeless crisis. (KOMO News)
A group of businesses, clergy, law enforcement, outreach workers and some Burien city leaders are calling on King County for help to address the homeless crisis. (KOMO News)
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A group of businesses, clergy, law enforcement, outreach workers and some Burien city leaders are calling on King County for help.

The city of Burien said on Tuesday, it is now working with King County to find space for 30 homeless people about to be forced to leave the park due to a ban on camping in the park. The ban takes effect at the end of the month. The encampment is on private property. After Monday's reported concerns and last night’s Burien’s City Council meeting, the county scheduled a meeting with city leaders for this morning.

Their issue is finding shelter — even emergency beds — for people living in an encampment that has taken over part of Burien's Town Square Park. The park includes a building that houses Burien City Hall and the Burien Library. About 14 tents are lined up along the library's west wall.

Burien's LEAD project manager Aaron Burkhalter said about 30 people are living at the encampment, but time is running out for the encampment and its residents. LEAD is project managing and coordinating the homelessness response at the Burien site and is relying on a REACH outreach team to connect with the encampments residents.

"They meet with them everyday," Burkhalter said.

Burkhalter and Burien Mayor Sofia Aragon said a new policy is set to take effect at the end of the month, banning camping inside the park grounds as of March 30.

"I'm worried about them having to move at end of month and for them having no where to go, the city has done best to find outreach to get them indoors but it's been difficult," said Burien Mayor Sofia Aragon, "This is a difficult situation, we always need two things , which is coordination and resources to support people."

"The clock is ticking, and we don't have any housing options here in Burien," said Burkhalter, who sent a letter 10 days ago to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRHA) and liaisons for King County health through housing programs, asking for access to 30 units so that those impacted can also receive wrap-around services.

The city of Burien told KOMO News they are working together with the county and learned while the county’s resources are limited, King County has agreed to try to help them possibly identify temporary short-term housing. The county confirmed the meeting via an email but referred questions to the city of Burien.

Burkhalter and other members of the group, including Discover Burien Executive Director Debra George, said they are discouraged that so far they've heard nothing back from the county.

"This is a crisis," George said. "We are really super disappointed they haven't responded to the letter to give insight on whether they can help us or not, they are a much bigger entity than we are we are Burien, we don't have all the resources they have."

George said her employees at Discover Burien clean up the park every morning because debris and garbage pile up overnight.

"We see open-air drug use all the time," George said. "Last night there was a loud party outside the tents and mess left this morning."

Burien Police Chief Ted Boe said there are police calls to respond to the encampment every day — sometimes multiple times a day.

George and Burkhalter said a fire broke out recently inside one of the tents, with three people inside, and one was hurt. The fire prompted the building association, which houses City Hall and the library, to ban camping on the grounds, Burkhalter and Aragon said. The fire, Burkhalter said, sent one person to the hospital with critical injuries.

"We want to help those living inside the encampment as well," Aragon said.

Burkhalter said city stakeholders continue to work toward a long-term goal of a local shelter in Burien, but they need help now. The city only has a cold-weather shelter at Highline United Methodist Church, and it's only open during a severe weather event. Rev. Jenny Partch of Highline United Methodist Church said her team has been connecting with those living in the encampment, too.

"All of them are willing to take shelter," Partch said.

She said she appreciates KCRHA and considers its help a "bonus" for Burien.

"They know the deficit for beds and shelter provided in this area, so we are really looking to them to be our partner in this and help us work through this," Partch said, " I'm concerned because these folks will be pushed out, they will lose belongings, then they have to to start over, it's a waste of resources, a waste of tents, sleeping bags and things they gather just to live with."

A presentation from KCRHA is on Monday night's Burien City Council meeting's agenda. KCRHA was scheduled to appear prior to the Town Square Park issue, but the group asking for help said it plans to call on KCRHA during Monday's meeting to ask for help, specifically if it can help the access units at hotels converted for the homeless or even help to access emergency shelter beds.

KOMO reached out to the KCRHA via email today asking for a response to the letter an next steps. A KCRHA referred us to King County Health through Housing program, since the letter specifically asked for use of those units with wrap around services for tenants. We reached out to them also earlier today and after the response from KCRHA. As of this writing, we haven't heard back yet.

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The council meeting begins at 7 p.m.

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