Response to King County Sheriff Press Conference

Burien Counters Misinformation in Press Conference from King County Sheriff
Posted on 03/12/2024
Statement from City of Burien.

Burien is deeply concerned about the misinformation, partial truths, and inaccuracies presented during the King County Sheriff’s press conference on March 11, 2024. This crucial and necessary press release sets the record straight and ensures the public has accurate information.  

Let Burien be unequivocal: Burien does not intend to criminalize homelessness. The truth is, Burien Municipal Code (BMC) 9.85.150, in each of its iterations, only considers camping on public property a crime if shelter or beds are available.  That has never changed.

The City of Burien has always sought a true partnership with the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO).  A partnership rooted in trust and collaboration, not a relationship based on a perceived superiority of King County.  To that end, Burien has collaborated with King County concerning homelessness, incidents involving the unhoused, and BMC 9.85.150. This is true despite a previous incident where King County issued an inflammatory press release during the collaboration process to address the Sheriff’s refusal to assist with moving the unhoused. Even after that betrayal, Burien has engaged with the KCSO and the same King County legal counsel involved in the press release regarding the revised language for the ordinance and the map. These discussions, demonstrating Burien’s proactive approach, occurred as early as late 2023 and in February 2024. Not only was King County aware that Burien sought to amend BMC 9.85.150 based at least in part on the Burien Police Chief’s input, but Burien delayed amending the then-existing version of the ordinance at his request.

Contrary to the suggestions made during the press conference, Burien has never stated that it would not have service providers. The key distinction between the current iteration of BMC 9.85.150 and prior versions is not the absence of service providers, as was incorrectly implied, but rather King County’s decision to stop enforcing all aspects of BMC 9.85.150. 

For months, Burien has openly discussed the need to improve service providers’ availability and services offered to the unhoused based on King County deputies’ requests. However, after seeing no meaningful change, Burien terminated its contract with a service provider.  Burien’s efforts to refer people to services have been performed with the prior iterations of the ordinance, and nothing in this ordinance prohibits those same efforts. At this time, Burien continues to rely on other service providers to assist the unhoused.

In addition, the map does not prohibit people from “living.”  The map makes clear that camping is not allowed everywhere in Burien.  More specifically, the map protects schools, daycares, etc., from the negative secondary effects that sometimes exist where the unhoused camp.  Burien never stated that the map would be constantly changed without notice or that there would be enforcement without notice to the public. Burien could not ask King County, and King County would not agree to enforce a prohibition that no one had notice of. The City Manager’s authority to update the map allows Burien to adjust the map as needed since the homeless population is transient, and schools, daycare, etc., sometimes close permanently or open for business. 

Unfortunately, King County repeatedly suggests that Burien must house the unhoused. To be clear, while Burien strives to help every unhoused person obtain what they need, according to the United States Supreme Court, there is no fundamental right to housing, and cities are under no obligation to provide adequate housing (Lindsey v. Normet, 405 U.S. 56, page 74; and Deshaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189, page 259). Of course, Burien would appreciate King County being proactive in providing housing, shelters, treatment facilities, and beds for its unhoused residents in Burien and throughout King County.

King County asserts that its unilateral determination that Burien’s ordinance was unconstitutional is based on the Ninth Circuit decisions in Martin v. Boise and Johnson v. Grants Pass. How King County concluded that is unclear.  In Martin v. Boise, despite finding a constitutional violation under the specific facts in that case, the Ninth Circuit emphasized that it did not mandate that cities “provide sufficient shelter for the homeless, or allow anyone who wishes to sit, lie, or sleep on the streets . . . at any time and at any place.” See Martin v. Boise, 920 F.3d 584, page 617.

In Johnson v. Grants Pass, the Ninth Circuit has clarified that “Martin is not to be interpreted to hold that the anti-camping ordinances were properly enjoined in their entirety … nor does it prohibit the City from attempting other solutions to the homelessness issue.” See Johnson v. Grants Pass, 72 F.4th 868, page 895.  

The Ninth Circuit in Johnson, in addition to explaining that it is not unlawful or even criminalization of homelessness to have an anti-camping ban, stated, “we hold simply that it ‘unconstitutional to [punish] simply sleeping somewhere in public if one has nowhere else to do so.’” Johnson v. Grants Pass, page 896.

It is important to clarify that Burien’s ordinance does not punish or criminalize individuals for being unhoused. The ordinance asks individuals to sleep in areas not close to schools, daycares, etc. If they choose not to sleep in these areas, assuming no beds or shelters are available, there is no crime. This non-punitive approach aligns with the Ninth Circuit’s decisions in Johnson v. Grants Pass and Martin v. Boise and does not violate any constitutional provisions. Further, this is not dissimilar to the prohibition on camping in parks that King County may still enforce.

Burien’s ordinance is constitutionally valid, and King County is violating the Interlocal Agreement by willfully failing to enforce any aspect of it. 


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