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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

Burien had a law on its books banning camping in parks, so people largely avoided sleeping in those places, said police Chief Ted Boe.

"If you can camp somewhere else, why would you camp where there's conflict?" he added.

Colleen Brandt-Schluter, head of Burien's human services department, said at the time that her department's approach has been "to always lead with services."

But finding shelter and housing in South King County is hard to do.

Burien's shelter system can serve up to 159 people: 150 in a family shelter and nine in a women's shelter.

Across King County, 91% of 5,344 available shelter beds were occupied during the single-night count in January 2023, according to Housing Inventory Count data.

 

Burien outreach workers have to compete with 38 other King County cities facing their own growing homelessness crises to place residents in one of those beds. And cities that have camping bans but few, if any, shelters rely on this regional stock to be able to enforce them.

Kent and Auburn have passed tough homelessness ordinances after seeing an increase in people living outside in recreational vehicles and tents. Some cities, like Edmonds and Mercer Island, have passed laws to discourage poor people from living there.

So when the 20 or so people in the encampment were shooed away, most picked up their tents and dragged their belongings one block west to a city-owned patch of land, commonly used as a place for dogs to do their business.

The $1 million offer

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