People experiencing homelessness are the most at risk during a pandemic. Not having a safe place to isolate and having limited access to sanitation facilities makes them more susceptible to contracting and getting seriously ill from disease.
The City of Burien recognized this early in the pandemic and took several actions. The City installed portable public restrooms and handwashing stations in several areas across the city. The portable restrooms were easier to disinfect than interior public restrooms.
Co-LEAD (COVID, Community, and Co-Responder)
Co-LEAD, a partnership between the Public Defender Association and the City of Burien, helped people experiencing homelessness access safe temporary housing. Co-LEAD was an emergency adaptation of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, offering hotel placements and intensive case management for people committing low-level law violations related to extreme poverty or behavioral health issues.
Starting in March, more individuals were found camping in the Burien Skate Park and Dottie Harper Park.
“Burien police wanted to keep the community consensus agreement that it’s not appropriate for people to be living in our parks,” said Lisa Dugaard, executive director of the Public Defender Association. “But they recognized that people were there because other options were insufficient or had shut down during the crisis.”
“Local hotels were on the brink of shutting down due to the collapse of the travel industry,” said Dugaard. “People in the parks needed a non-congregate facility with access to sanitation to ‘shelter in place.’ What was missing was an intensive outreach and case management effort to screen and place individuals in hotels, provide COVID-19 testing and protective equipment, and ensure that participants could meet their basic needs and get access to relief resources as the economy shut down. Co-LEAD was born to fill this gap.”
To date, Co-LEAD has worked with approximately 30 individuals from Burien and all but a few are still sheltered and connected to the program. Participants in the program are getting both their physical and mental health needs met. Many have begun Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder, enrolled in Apple Health, and several have secured jobs and permanent housing.
“Many have reported that they now have support they have not experienced before,” said Dugaard. “They are beginning to make long-term plans for surviving this current crisis in good shape.”
Network of community organizations and public agencies provides support
Community organizations and public agencies that work to help people gain access to housing, jobs, and other essential needs were working overtime to help.
Homeless shelter operators began a process of “de-intensifying” the shelters by opening up temporary new shelters across the county so that physical distancing requirements and other safety measures could be met. Locally, Highline United Methodist Church opened its doors to Catholic Community Services to operate a women-only shelter as part of this effort. Mary’s Place, a family shelter, and Hospitality House, a women-only shelter in Burien, continue to serve and operate.
Public Health – Seattle & King County established temporary quarantine facilities for people who were unable to isolate at home, including people experiencing homelessness.
The City is also working to ensure that more of our community members can stay in their current homes. Policies that prohibit evictions, foreclosures, and utility shutoffs are helping people remain housed during this pandemic.
If you or someone you know needs help, please contact crisisconnections.org or dial 2-1-1 to seek assistance.