Homelessness Response

Across the Puget Sound region, people are struggling to keep up with the rapidly rising cost of living and many of our fellow community members are ending up homeless. Our current systems of care do not keep up with the need, and without enough affordable housing, many seniors, families, and individuals end up sleeping on the street and in vehicles.

Since the causes of homelessness are complex—from losing a job, or experiencing a sudden financial challenge such as a medical emergency, to mental health or substance use disorders—our approach to addressing the impacts of homelessness should be as well.

One of the roots of homelessness is the rising cost of housing in the region. There are several efforts underway to address housing affordability. These include participation in the South King Housing and Homelessness Partnership (SKHHP), joining the Challenge Seattle effort, and developing rental housing policies that could help prevent people from falling in homelessness.

Program to Lead with Services and Address 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. Read more about the 4-month pilot program.

On September 16, 2019, the Council directed staff to make this approach permanent

South King Housing and Homelessness Partnership (SKHHP) Agreement

Burien is participating in a new interlocal agreement between the jurisdictions of Auburn, Burien, Covington, Des Moines, Federal Way, Kent, Normandy Park, Renton, Tukwila, and King County to form the South King Housing and Homelessness Partnership (SKHHP). The agreement directs the south King County jurisdictions to work together to address affordable housing and homelessness. This collaborative model is based on similar approaches used in Snohomish County, east King County, and other areas of the country.

Human Services

The City supports several organizations that serve the needs of homeless community members through the Human Services Fund. The Human Services Commission provides funding recommendations to Council, who approves the final list of fund recipients.

The City’s Human Services Manager works with local organizations, government agencies, and funders to coordinate and attract services to Burien. The Human Services Manager also assists with coordinating the City’s Navigation Team (see below) to respond to encampments.

Community Organizations

There is a network of privately funded local and regional organizations that serve people experiencing homelessness. Burien currently has two shelters: a family shelter (Mary’s Place) that can serve up to 219 family members and a women-only shelter (Hospitality House) that can serve up to nine single women. A group of churches opened up a temporary severe weather shelter during the February 2019 major snow event.

Several community organizations, including Transform Burien, provide regular meals, health care, and other essential needs to people experiencing homelessness. Healthcare for the Homeless, Seattle King County Public Health Mobile Medical programs provide health care, dental, and pregnancy support. Seattle Union Gospel Mission and local churches also provide services.

The Role of Schools

The Highline School District is required by federal law to support children and youth experiencing homelessness. The McKenney-Vento Program provides support for students experiencing homelessness.

The Role of Law Enforcement

Homelessness is a serious regional and national issue that cannot be solved by arresting people. Laws that unintentionally criminalize homelessness are not long-term solutions. While the Burien Police Department will continue to address criminal behavior when it occurs, new programs like Community Court, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), and the City of Burien’s Navigation Team will help us address some of the underlying issues that can lead to criminal behavior. The Burien Police Department will continue to work with community partners to help ensure our public spaces are safe for everyone to enjoy.

Navigation Team

The City operates a Navigation Team to bring resources to community members living outside and in encampments. The Navigation Team is comprised of specially trained members of the Burien Police Department, the City’s human services manager, parks maintenance staff, and trained homeless outreach workers from Evergreen Treatment Services REACH program, Sound, and Catholic Community Services’ CReW (Counseling, Recovery and Wellness) program.

The Navigation Team works together to first build trust with people living on the streets. The team also tries to reduce barriers to accessing services, which can include transportation and one-on-one follow up with individuals. The goal is to get people the assistance they need to be self-sufficient again. Building a relationship with people is fundamental to the Navigation Team’s approach. The Navigation Team goes out twice per month, but members of the team work every day to connect vulnerable people living unsheltered to services and safer spaces as well as to remove encampments that pose serious public health and safety risks.

During the outreach sessions, the team contacts the most vulnerable people in the city and encourages them to accept services. This work helps to divert people from jails and emergency rooms to service providers that can help get them on a path toward long-term stability.
When people are living in a park or other public property, the team works together to follow a process designed to balance the rights of people living unsheltered with the City’s responsibility to maintain public health and safety. This includes giving notice to the individual through multiple visits from outreach workers. People are encouraged to move to another location on their own. If people refuse to comply with the notice, the Navigation Team will remove an encampment after 72 hours. When people are camping on private property, the Navigation Team will work with the private property owner.

Community Court

Community court is an alternative problem-solving court that seeks to go beyond punitive actions to identify and address the underlying challenges of court participants that may contribute to further criminal activity. The court works with people who have committed non-violent misdemeanors such as theft, shoplifting, trespassing, and other low-level offenses. The goal is to build stronger and safer neighborhoods and reduce recidivism, while helping people to help themselves. Not all Community Court participants experience homelessness. Learn more about Community Court.

Community Resource Center

Part of Community Court is the operation of a weekly Community Resource Center at the Burien Community Center. Held on Mondays, the community resource center is open to everyone and no appointment is necessary. It is a one-stop place for support services, such as housing, education, food assistance, legal advice, and more. Learn more about the Community Resource Center.

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program

LEAD’s goal is to improve public safety and public order, and to reduce the criminal behavior of people who participate in the program. The Burien LEAD program will divert people who have committed certain misdemeanors into community-based treatment and support services—including housing, health care, job training, treatment and mental health support—instead of processing them through the traditional criminal justice system. Learn more about the Burien LEAD program.

Legal Issues

In September 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals made a decision (Martin vs. Boise) that made it unconstitutional to give someone a citation for simply being on public property, including city parks, if the person did not have another place to go, such as an open bed in a shelter.

In April 2018, the Burien City Council repealed the City’s public property trespassing ordinance, meaning that simply being in a City park or other City-owned space, even after being asked to leave, is no longer a crime. If Council decided to re-instate the public property trespass ordinance, it would likely by challenged by a lawsuit based on Martin vs. Boise, which would be costly to defend, further reducing funds for services.

Burien Police can and still do enforce laws regarding other criminal behaviors on public property.