City of Burien to Address Camping in Parks

Pilot Program to Connect Unsheltered to Services
Posted on 05/01/2019
Burien Addresses Camping in Parks

On May 6, 2019, the City of Burien announced a new approach to addressing unauthorized use of Burien parks and facilities. In an effort to make everyone feel welcome and safe in Burien parks, City staff and Burien Police will be taking a compassionate, collaborative, and legal approach to prevent camping and encampments, that complies with the Martin v Boise decision.

The City of Burien is engaging in a robust conversation about how to help address homelessness in our community. Everyone acknowledges there is a shortage of resources regionally to support those living unsheltered. City staff are working with local and regional partners to bring resources to Burien. Staff are also evaluating programs and initiatives from other communities to see what may work here. The four-month pilot program is meant to address the specific issue of camping in parks.

Currently, there are a number of individuals pitching tents in City parks even after being offered services such as basic needs, treatment for substance use disorder, and/or shelter. This is causing concern from community members who want to use the park, and is putting an enormous strain on City staff responsible for maintaining the cleanliness and accessibility of public parks. It also creates a public health issue for both those living unsheltered in the parks as well as community members who would like to use the parks for their intended recreational use.

Council approved a four-month pilot program to address the increase of the number of tents and structures in Burien parks while at the same time ensuring the City stays within the boundaries set by the Martin v Boise decision. This approach includes:

  1. The Navigation Team will maintain a list of local shelters that provide emergency housing for the homeless and will verify their availability at the time they engage someone in need.
  2. When the Navigation Team, consisting of Burien Police, City staff and social service outreach, encounter people camping in public parks, they will first try to offer services.
  3. The Burien Police Department will take steps to ensure enclosed tents are not set up in parks. Enclosed tents and shelters in parks is a civil infraction (BMC 7.40.010).
  4. Individuals who have been asked to remove their tents and belongings will not be allowed to set up camp in another park or in a different part of the park.
  5. People who remain in parks after closure (dusk) will be asked to voluntarily remove their belongings and leave. They will be provided information and transportation to available shelters. If shelter is available and they refuse to leave the park after park closure, they may be subject to arrest (BMC 7.30.230 and BMC 7.40.020).

This approach to enforcement of camping laws in our parks is in addition to continued work on the establishment of long-term prevention programs like Community Court, Community Resource Center, and LEAD. The City will continue to support local and regional service organizations through the Human Services Fund. The City’s Navigation Team and Burien Police Department’s High Visibility Team will continue to conduct regular direct outreach to people living unsheltered in Burien. Frequent contact helps establish relationships and build trust, which leads to a better chance of people connecting to services and housing.

Council directed the city manager to lead the implementation of the pilot program with detailed data collection in order to evaluate efficacy and service gaps. Council also directed staff to provide preliminary cost and feasibility of transitional housing options in Burien at a future Council meeting. Staff will give regular updates to Council regarding the efficacy of this approach.

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