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A Seattle suburb known for affordability becomes example of U.S. debate on homelessness

Anna Patrick, The Seattle Times on

Published in News & Features

For more than 100 years, Burien has been a place for immigrants to settle. Gottlieb Burian, originally from what is now Poland, is the namesake of the 10-square-mile city. Today, more than 20% of Burien's residents identify as Hispanic or Latino, double King County's percentage for this group, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

It is surrounded by paths of migration with planes flying to and from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on its southeastern border and ships passing by its western border, Puget Sound.

Incorporated in 1993, Burien has grown to more than 50,000 people, offering a more affordable place for people to live that's just a few miles from Seattle's city limits.

But a homelessness crisis has tested this small city, coming to a head in the winter of 2023. About 100 to 200 people were homeless in Burien that year, according to the city.

For about a year, up to 30 people lived outside the combined City Hall and library with little interference.

At the beginning of 2023, business owners and residents living in apartments near the encampment started to complain.


Then, there was a fire at the encampment, and officials decided to act.

At an early April council meeting, many City Council members tossed around ideas for how to help people living outside. City Manager Adolfo Bailon shared possible funding sources that could be tapped. They discussed available property to create a sanctioned encampment.

One member asked, "Where do they go next?"

Another asked, "Do we have any plans for how we could potentially relocate them?"


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