Officials debate who’s to blame for death of homeless person in Burien

Mar 14, 2024, 5:42 PM | Updated: 8:56 pm

Photo: The body of a homeless person was found Thursday morning at an encampment next to Burien Cit...

The body of a homeless person was found Thursday morning at an encampment next to Burien City Hall. (Photo: James Lynch, KIRO Newsradio)

(Photo: James Lynch, KIRO Newsradio)

The body of a homeless person was found Thursday morning at an encampment next to Burien City Hall.

Burien Mayor Kevin Schilling believes an overdose caused the death, although the medical examiner has yet to file a formal report.

“A police officer spoke with the head of the Farmer’s Market who talked to folks and it’s assumed to be a drug overdose, right now,” Schilling said. “I don’t know what else it could be.”

Schilling said at least some of the blame for the death falls on former Burien City Council member Cydney Moore, and her non-profit, The Burien Community Support Coalition.

Schilling said Moore and her group encouraged people to camp downtown.

Related news: Burien police officer not enforcing city’s new camping ban

‘You have a similar goal that I do …’: Officials seek common ground

“They have claimed ownership for a group of people, without helping them,” Schilling said. “They’re not bringing them into shelter and services. They’re moving them around in tents. They’ve been doing it for a year, and this is the negative impact of that.”

Moore denied the allegation and said finger-pointing gets them nowhere and that the problem is systemic.

“Using this tragedy to try to incite people is really sad to see,” Moore said. “There is no one person that can be blamed for the deaths that occur.”

Moore claimed the same faces who are camping in downtown Burien right now are the same people who were swept from the library last year.

“They have shifted around downtown due to sweeps,” she said. “They never left because this is their home.”

Commentary from Ursula Reutin: The Burien homeless crisis highlights an even bigger problem

Moore also said Burien leaders should seek solutions to poverty and homelessness.

“We had a record number of unhoused people in Burien last year. We need compassion and empathy from our leaders,” she said.

When asked if Schilling and Moore could work together to improve conditions for Burien’s homeless, he spoke directly to the former city council member.

“You have a similar goal that I do which is to get people off the street and into shelters and services, that gives them what they need,” Schilling said. “We shouldn’t be doing this back and forth, tug of war. It’s not good for the community but it’s certainly not good for the people who need help the most which are people who are on the street.”

Sheriff’s office sends statement regarding the death

Around 7 p.m. on Thursday, the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against the Burien Public Camping Ordinance.

“The sheriff’s office is sad to see the death of any resident, including the case today in Burien,” KCSO wrote in a statement.

KCSO said the investigation into the cause of death is being determined by the King County Medical Examiner’s Office.

“While there is disagreement between the City of Burien and the sheriff’s office regarding a recently adopted emergency public camping ordinance, KCSO is actively enforcing all other laws within the City of Burien,” the sheriff’s office wrote.

KCSO went on to explain why it filed the motion.

“The motion highlights substantial constitutional problems with Burien’s anti-camping ordinance, including violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. A ruling on the sheriff’s motion for preliminary injunction that determines the constitutionality of Burien’s ordinance is expected any time after April 5, 2024. The constitutionality of the Burien ordinance will be resolved, but the Sheriff’s directive will remain in place until the matter is resolved by the court,” the sheriff’s office wrote.

Contributing: Julia Dallas, MyNorthwest

You can read more of James Lynch’s stories here. Follow James on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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