Mary Guiberson knows firsthand why housing-first policies are crucial.
“I’ve experienced homelessness. I’ve experienced living in transitional housing. And I’ve experienced receiving services,” said Guiberson. “I would not have earned my master’s degree without both services and support from the community.”
Guiberson was hired in May as the City of Burien’s first neighborhood care coordinator. The City-contracted position works for Evergreen Treatment Services’ REACH, a street outreach program that links people with the services and support they need to improve their lives. The neighborhood care coordinator position is modeled after a similar program REACH operates in Seattle’s University District, helping connect people experiencing homelessness to services. Her position covers all of Burien, but focuses on the main commercial areas such as downtown and 1st Ave S.
The new position is part of an historic investment in Burien’s public safety thanks to federal American Rescue Plan funding. The funding also supports a new downtown Burien storefront police officer and a “co-responder” mental health professional to accompany fire and police on 911 calls.
Guiberson’s role is distinct from the co-responder team in that she is not there to do enforcement or crisis response. She works during the day, Monday through Friday. Her role is to build long-term relationships with people, encouraging them to be mindful of the fact that they are in a public space and help them meet their basic needs, with the end goal of connecting them to the housing and services they need to improve their lives.
While she works to connect people to services that exist, she emphasizes that there isn’t nearly enough housing, behavioral health care, and other services available.
Guiberson is the first point of contact for businesses and residents who have concerns about someone sleeping in their doorway or have some issue with their behavior. Previously, those calls would have gone to police. Now Guiberson can help triage the situation and eventually help people find services and case management.
“We wanted to create a trauma-informed and coordinated street outreach strategy,” said Colleen Brandt-Schluter, City of Burien Human Services Manager.
Guiberson’s combined professional and lived experience make her the perfect fit for this role. She’s worked for REACH for seven years, but before that, she worked for Compass Housing Alliance in harm-reduction shelters, and day centers, as well as working behind the scenes to coordinate and administer programs.
She works closely with the Burien LEAD program, serving as the primary point of contact for new referrals from businesses into the program. She also works closely with the City’s human services staff, Transform Burien, King County’s mobile medical vans, and the new storefront police officer, Deputy Mark Hayden.
“The work I do is not an immediate solution. It’s more of a process,” said Guiberson. “Patience is important. I want us to find ways to work together as a community. We are all part of the same community.”
Burien businesses who would like to contact Mary Guiberson can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: On July 19, 2021, the Burien City Council approved a $450,000 boost to Burien’s collaborative approach to public safety. The new funding pays for a neighborhood care coordinator, storefront resource officer in downtown Burien, and community response (co-responder) team. Look for a story in our spring 2023 issue profiling the new co-response team.