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Burien group protests city’s new camping ban by sleeping outside

caption: Tents set up outside Burien City Hall on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023.
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Tents set up outside Burien City Hall on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023.
David Stoesz

This weekend a group of people set up tents in downtown Burien to protest the city’s recently enacted camping ban, an ordinance that prohibits people from sleeping overnight on public property. The activists said the city should not enforce the law until it provides some sort of shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

Roughly eight tents were placed in Burien’s Town Square Park on Saturday, close to City Hall where the City Council narrowly approved the public camping ban in September. People placed signs that read, “REPEAL 818,” and “POVERTY IS NOT A CRIME.”

Ordinance 818 prohibits people from sleeping or resting on public property between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. People caught sleeping in a tent in a city park can be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.

The law was debated for months at raucous City Council meetings and was approved by a vote of 4-3.

Council members and residents against the ban argued that the city currently does not have any homeless shelters or sanctioned tent sites and a camping ban would criminalize people for being homeless.

“I don't think us camping out for a night was going to change the law,” said Kelsey Vanhee, one of the protesters, “but it felt really important to me to let our unhoused community and also just the rest of Burien know that not everyone supported this.”

caption: Protest signs at Burien Town Square Park on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023.
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Protest signs at Burien Town Square Park on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023.
David Stoesz

Vanhee and the others issued a list of demands that included the council accepting King County’s offer of $1 million to establish a sanctioned camp space in Burien.

The council has debated whether to accept the county’s offer for weeks, and if it should open a city shelter at all.

Saturday’s protest came just days after election day. In all three open races on the City Council, the candidate who supported the camping ban won. Cydney Moore, an incumbent who voted against the ban and was at Saturday’s demonstration, lost her seat.

“For the next two years, at least, we're gonna have a conservative council and we just got to do what we can to reduce the harm to the most vulnerable,” Vanhee said. She encouraged people to volunteer at Burien’s Severe Weather Shelter this winter and Sunnydale Village, a tent site for homeless people at Oasis Home Church in Burien.

Though it will be temporary, when opened, Sunnydale will be Burien’s only spot for people to sleep in a tent overnight legally.

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