EXCLUSIVE: Seattle-area July 4th parade rerouted to avoid homeless camp

"We're going to take a left on 4th and just head into town square park."

The city of Burien, Washington altered the parade route for its 100th Annual Independence Day Celebration to avoid a massive homeless encampment.

The encampment on SW 152nd St near the entrance of a Grocery Outlet and Dollar Tree is now close to 20 tents deep.

"It's best just to err on caution," Debra George, who leads Discover Burien, a coalition of business owners responsible for making the last-minute decision, said.

"We're going to take a left on 4th and just head into town square park,” George added.

Families, children, and tourists usually line downtown streets to get a glimpse of the floats and marching bands, but George says they have no choice but to alter the route since the city is refusing to remove the encampment. Burien does not have an illegal camping ordinance.

“I don't believe it should be in our downtown commercial area," George said.

A fire engulfed multiple tents over the past few weeks, and business owners said they are struggling with a spike in thefts related to the encampment. Burien still refuses to take action.

People in the throes of mental illness roam the area freely and open-air drug use is a common site.

Burien Mayor Sophia Aragon called the situation “…a crisis moment," and added that creating a new ordinance to address the situation will be up for discussion but there are no assurances it will pass because the council is very divided on the issue. As she spoke, men smoked fentanyl behind her.

The progressive members of the council believe they have to allow the situation to continue until the city can find housing for everyone or find a space for a sanctioned encampment.

However, Council Member Stephanie Mora said that the homeless need to be moved immediately because they have already rejected help, and others from outside the city are moving into the encampment.

Mora said, “They were all offered beds, they were all offered services.”

During a special city council meeting earlier this month, Burien’s Planning Commissioner Charles Schaefer and City Councilmember Cydney Moore were brought up for a public “show cause” after they allegedly assisted campers relocate who were being cleared out from a camp outside city hall.

Both were facing censure by the council, but only Schaefer was facing removal because it isn't possible to remove Moore since a sitting council member can only be removed by a successful recall effort or an election.

Schaefer's hearing was “to show why the council should not censure, demote, or remove him from the Planning Commission,” for allegedly “providing false information to unhoused people (that they could reside on Burien property).”

The city also alleged that the planning commissioner violated Burien's ordinance by “sending, directing, or encouraging the unhoused to camp on park property,” adding that “Councilmember Moore was specific that the location in front of the store and behind the dollar store on the grass was available to set up tents as it was city property and wide enough not to interfere with foot traffic on the sidewalk.”

The council voted to remove Schaefer from the Planning Commission during the meeting by a majority vote.

According to KOMO News, following Schaefer's removal 11 commissioners and advisory board members resigned in protest, including members of the city's Arts Commission, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, and Airport Committee.
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