After county rejects extension, Burien must act quickly to get $1M in homeless aid

Nov 27, 2023, 12:04 PM

Image: An encampment near Burien City Hall...

An encampment near Burien City Hall (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

A Burien City Council meeting Monday night may have been the final opportunity for all leaders to decide if they will accept a $1 million offer from King County to build a tiny home village or pallet shelter community in an effort to address the growing homelessness crisis in the city.

After a marathon meeting that ran for more than four hours, the only point the council members agreed on as the proceedings adjourned was to to ask the county for an extension past the initial deadline of Monday, Nov. 27 so they can hold a special meeting on the matter after the long Thanksgiving weekend.

However, King County spokesperson Chase Gallagher confirmed to KIRO Newsradio Tuesday afternoon the county rejected the city of Burien’s request for an extension to decide whether to accept the money.

Since the county rejected the extension request, a meeting will be held Monday. But most city staff and some council members won’t be there.

“It’s not that I don’t want to make a decision here (at Monday’s meeting), it’s just not the way I want to build policy,” Burien City Council member Jimmy Matta said. “I apologize for those that feel I’ve let you down, but that’s all I can say for tonight.”

Matta abstained on all votes taken for a site for a tiny house village.

“Look at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s the homeless situation that people are scared of,” Matta added. “It’s the behaviors. The side effects. Mental health. Drug addiction. Some of the trauma that people have been though.”

How Burien got to this point

The debate over the proposed tiny home village has plagued council discussions for months. In a letter dated June 7, King County offered to help the city of Burien address its homelessness crisis by providing $1 million, up to 35 pallet shelters, and other resources. If the offer is accepted, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority would contract an organization to operate the shelter community in Burien.

But the county imposed one condition: the Burien City Council had to come up with an appropriate site within city limits. So far, the council has failed to agree upon one — but did pass a controversial overnight camping ban in September, which stated anyone sleeping or residing on public property from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. could be charged with a misdemeanor.

More from Burien: Overnight camping ban goes into effect

Looking at possible locations

After months of back-and-forth debate, “there are three possible locations and none (are) perfect,” Burien City Council member Sarah Moore wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The first location is a city-owned parking lot that a Toyota dealer is renting to store vehicles. King County has offered spaces at its nearby transit center to store the vehicles, but some councilmembers have expressed concern about losing revenue from the car dealer.

The second option is one owned by Seattle City Light, but “we are hearing concerns from a nearby school— those concerns need to be addressed,” Moore said.

The third proposed location is at Boulevard Park, but Moore points out it has less access to services than other options, is next to a library, and further from emergency response services. “We have not been provided with the cost to lease this property,” she wrote. Neighbors have also spoken out against it.

Moore says the council has received community feedback on all three locations, but stresses, “A tiny home shelter will be much different from an unsanctioned site — it will include hygiene, social services and 24-hour supportive staff.”

Another concern from residents — and some council members — is cost. “One million dollars is a finite sum, and we do not have a plan for when the money runs out,” Moore wrote. “Making such a plan should be part of the conversation.”

But, she also said, “I do not see the finite nature of the monetary offer as an automatic reason to refuse it.”

Some in the city have openly shown their disapproval of the council’s lack of progress in establishing shelter options in the city. Recently a group of residents gathered to speak out against what they call the city’s ‘Unlawful Public Camping’ ordinance.

Currently, Burien only has family and women-only shelters — and no overnight shelters for single adults, which makes up most of the city’s unhoused population.

Previous coverage: Burien shelter funding deadline nears as city council meeting gets heated

As the issue intensifies, the city is now threatening legal action against a Burien church hosting a homeless encampment. In a letter dated Nov. 15, the city of Burien ordered Oasis Home Church to apply for a temporary use permit and request a waiver to keep operating a homeless encampment in its parking lot.

On Nov. 1, the city also signed a contract with a local nonprofit, Discover Burien, which is in turn subcontracting with a controversial organization, The More We Love. According to the contract, the organization will respond to encampments in the city and “serve as (the Burien Police Department’s) primary de-escalation effort.”

“One meeting is not enough time to do this topic justice, ” Moore said. The council does have one more meeting on Nov. 27, the deadline for the $1 million offer from King County. If Burien doesn’t come up with a plan by the deadline, the county will make it available to other jurisdictions through a standard bidding process.

Contributing: Steve Coogan, MyNorthwest

You can read more of Kate Stone’s stories here. Follow Kate on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

You can read more of Lisa Brooks’ stories here. Follow Lisa on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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After county rejects extension, Burien must act quickly to get $1M in homeless aid