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Seattle suburb expands public property camping ban amid homeless crisis

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(The Center Square) – The Burien City Council on Monday night voted 5-2 to tighten its existing camping ban ordinance by passing an amendment that people can’t sleep within 500 feet of designated “critical areas.”

Ordinance 827 effectively bans homeless people from living on any public property at any time. The ordinance originally made exceptions at certain designated, marked areas between the hours of 7 p.m. to 6 a.m..

The amendment maps out areas within Burien where a 500-foot buffer is added to the ban on camping. The law applies to schools, daycare centers, libraries, parks, and other marked areas within the city. The changes go into effect immediately.

According to the agenda bill, the number of homeless people in Burien has dramatically increased despite being one of the more affordable cities in King County. Law enforcement has also confirmed to city officials that there has been a significant increase in crime in and near unhoused encampments, and within the last six months, there has been a murder and allegations of sex trafficking, sexual assaults, drug use, thefts, and trespasses in or near the encampments.

City Councilmembers Sarah Moore and Hugo Garcia voted against the amendment.

Garcia said he did not want to be associated with the amendment and Ordinance 827 because of the backlash it has received, including a lawsuit filed by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, alongside three homeless individuals residing in Burien.

“I definitely do not want to go down in history in support of something that has a map like this,” Garcia said at the city council meeting.

“This ordinance along with this map doesn’t have an answer. People can’t simply phase in and out of existence between daytime and nighttime,” Moore said. “In addition to this, the ordinance does nothing to address root causes of homelessness.”

Burien City Attorney Garmon Newsom II noted that the city initially prohibited camping in any park area in 2007 based on a need to control and protect the city’s public parks.

“Without an ordinance preventing camping in parks in 2007, the question is whether you would still have those parks that you are so proud of at this moment,” said Newsom.

The council approval of the camping ban expansion came despite a majority of public commenters speaking in opposition of the ordinance. However, the bill references claims by Burien residents and business owners that unhoused people steal from their stores, do drugs in public, and defecate and urinate in front of children and their parents.

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