Fight over Burien homeless camp intensifies

BURIEN, Wash. — Months-long frustrations over a homeless camp in Burien have intensified.

King County’s general counsel sent a blunt warning to the city, and the city fired back.

The debate was sparked by the relocation of a homeless camp downtown from outside the City Hall to a green space at Sixth Avenue Southwest and Southwest 152nd Street.

Burien leased the plot of land to a nonprofit to make it a city-sanctioned dog park. The city wants the area swept.

But King County officials said its deputies can’t — and won’t — help.

They said the city is not meeting its legal obligations because it has not identified housing alternatives for people living in the camp.

“King County has continuously engaged with the city of Burien throughout the past few months to help the city identify a solution that meets the needs of our shared residents,” said Chase Gallagher with the County Executive’s Office. “Homelessness is a regional problem, and every jurisdiction plays a part in finding solutions. But that regional aspect doesn’t alleviate cities from the responsibility of serving their residents and taking action directly in their community. The letter shared with the city provided transparency and clarity to the role that Sheriff’s deputies serving the Burien police would have in this matter.”

Gallagher says King County has allocated more than $13 million to create 130 new units of housing in Burien, with the first project scheduled to open next year.

As local government squabbles, some neighbors are fed up with a lack of action.

They told KIRO 7 the camp is growing and the homeless are taking advantage of the situation.

“I’ve noticed they’re starting to sleep in the park again… the drug use, they’re still doing it in the open… they’re not held accountable for their actions… they do damage and nothing’s done,” said Burien woman Charlotte Plett.

Dr. Randy Olson’s business, Town Square Dentistry, is right next to the encampment at the center of this heated debate. Dr. Olson says the campers started filling the greenspace back in April. He believes it’s since tripled in size. With no solution in sight, Dr. Olson says he’s trying to find a way to coexist with his new neighbors. He wants to foster a mutual sense of respect.

“I’ve had a talk with the leader of the camp,” said Dr. Olson. “It shouldn’t be next to a healthcare facility so I’m standing by that statement, but I can’t get the campers to buy that. I can’t even get the city or county to buy that argument.”

It’s unclear what will happen next, but Burien local Dana Jacallen argues a solution is long overdue.

“These people deserve our help, “said Jacallen. “It isn’t something they caused for themselves or chose for themselves. They fell through the cracks.”

The city of Burien sent KIRO 7 a statement that reads, in part:

“Burien has unsuccessfully sought services... shelter space... and housing — from King County and its designated agent, KCRHA (King County Regional Homelessness Authority). King County’s letter reflects a belief that Burien alone is responsible for the unhoused now in Burien with no duty, responsibility, or obligation on King County’s part.”