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Showdown in Burien: King County Says Deputies Will Not be Used During Encampment Clearing

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A showdown is looming in Burien over a homeless encampment in the center of downtown. Now more than 20 tents deep, a resident walking her dog near the site describes homeless encampments like this one as “a national humanitarian crisis.”

The encampment is being blamed for open air drug use, a spike in thefts, and sex trafficking. 

Burien City Councilmember Stephanie Mora tells me she has become aware that “there have been several underage girls sleeping there.”

The city decided to lease out the property that the encampment is on to Burien Cares, a local non-profit with plans to turn the site back into a dog park. Burien Cares put up signs around the property asking campers to leave by Wednesday the 31st.

This plan seemed straightforward until King County Executive Dow Constantine sent Burien officials an aggressive letter a few days ago. In it, Executive Constantine claims it is illegal to require the homeless to vacate the property, because the city did not offer viable shelter options.

The letter even went so far as to say that King County Sheriff’s deputies would not be allowed to assist in the encampment clearing.

“I feel like he is bullying Burien,” says Councilmember Mora.

In addition to Executive Constantine, the letter was also signed by King County Sheriff Patty Cole-Tindall and King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion.

Councilmember Mora interprets the letter as a legal threat and says Constantine is trying to flex beyond his reach and strong arm the city council. 

“King County wants to push us around,” she tells me.

In March, an encampment in front of Burien City Hall was cleared. Councilmember Cydney Moore and another official advised campers to head over to this piece of land just a few blocks away. Currently, camping is only illegal in the city’s public parks. 

Local ministries and non-profits have tried to help provide housing and services, but Councilmember Mora says most of the homeless have refused the options being offered. 

She says they “don’t want to take the services that are offered to them because they can’t use drugs.”

A homeless man who goes by Buddha explains that offers of shelter are not enough.

“Shelters are disgusting…people get raped in shelters,” he tells me.

To complicate the issue, Councilmember Mora says that people from outside of Burien are coming and setting up tents at this encampment because they’ve heard it won’t be cleared.

“There’s someone at the White Center bus stop that I guess is sending people to the Burien encampment,” she tells me.

Local business owner Robyn Desimone says that business owners are frustrated with Executive Constantine and prepared to take matters into their own hands.

“We all have security videos of individuals trying to break into our businesses and then we have video of them returning to their tents,” Desimone explains.

The city council will meet on Tuesday to consider the best course of action. 

In the meantime, Burien Cares is scheduled to start managing the property on June 1st, and Desimone says business owners will hire private security to sweep the encampment if the county won’t step up to help.  

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.