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Controversy Erupts in Burien Over Homeless Encampment Removal

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The City of Burien is in recovery mode following a lengthy homeless encampment takeover outside City Hall.

The individuals living in the encampment were told on Friday to move following months of concerns and complaints voiced by neighbors and business owners over the rise in property crimes, open air drug use, and fires in the surrounding area. 

As the encampment was cleared, Burien Police Department’s Detective Scott Mandella says he’s “happy with the way things are going so far” and hasn’t been meet with any adamant defiance. 

However, some neighbors advocate for the encampment to remain in place. The homeless people living in the encampment “should definitely be able to stay on public property,” says resident David K.

He says people being “swept out of Seattle” end up in Burien, and now “there’s nowhere for them to go.”

Outreach groups and local ministries spent weeks trying to convince people to take shelter or enter detox programs, with some success.

No one was expecting the news that began to circulate on the ground. Multiple sources say that Burien City Councilmember Cydney Moore encouraged the homeless people in the encampment to move to a plot of city land just a block away.

Resident and attorney John Kannin described moving the encampment, which is right next to a family dental practice in the heart of the business district, as “a whack-a-mole sort of situation.”

“They didn’t go there according to their own volition,” he tells me.

I reached out to Councilmember Moore numerous times for comment but received no response.

However, she released a statement on April 1 saying that she “held a discussion with the campers about what their rights are”—namely that Supreme Court case Martin v. Boise prohibited the “imposition of criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping or lying outside on public property for homeless individuals who cannot obtain shelter.”

Moore went on to say, “I acted on my own accord, as a concerned individual, and a leader tasked with ensuring the safety of all people in our city.” 

And this is why Alex Guillen moved all his belongings and set up camp on the lawn just a block away from city hall. 

“Now our livelihoods, our neighborhood, and our city is at risk,” Darla, a Burien business owner, tells me.

Attorney John Kannin is preparing to file a class action lawsuit against the city and says that Councilmember Moore should be recalled for failing her duty to the people of Burien. 

Kannin says that if the city “told the citizens that they’re going to get rid of the homeless camp, and they moved it a block away, that would seem to be misfeasance.”

Burien Councilmember Stephanie Mora says that the situation is undermining the spirit of the city’s anti-camping in public parks laws, and that “if she [Councilmember Moore] actually wanted to help people, she would have been contacting more organizations.”

Mora tells me that the homeless can stay in their new location “indefinitely” until someone is able to lease the land from the city.

Scott Law owns an electric train shop across the street from the new encampment and wants to give it a chance.  He tells, me “there’s not a lot of options for them….I don’t know what alternatives we have.”

In short, Law is sympathetic to the people living in the encampment. He says, “they need to live somewhere.”

Jonathan Choe

Journalist and Senior Fellow, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Jonathan Choe is a journalist and Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute's Center on Wealth and Poverty, covering homelessness issues for its Fix Homelessness initiative. Prior to joining Discovery, Choe spent several years as one of the lead reporters at KOMO-TV, consistently the top rated television station in Seattle. His in depth stories on crime and deep dive investigations into the homeless crisis led to measurable results in the community, including changes in public policy. Choe has more than two decades of experience in television news behind the scenes and in front of the camera for ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, and Tribune. He has also been nominated and honored with multiple industry awards including an Emmy. Choe spent several years teaching classes on emerging media and entrepreneurship to under privileged youth in inner city Chicago. As an independent journalist, Choe also contributes regularly to the Mill Creek View and Lynnwood Times and has reported on exclusive stories in the past year for Daily Wire and The Postmillennial.