Anchorage’s homeless blown off by public

Eli Johnson

As everybody already knows, every homeless person has a freshly pressed suit in their cart.  At least, that is what the mayor of Anchorage, Dan Sullivan, seems to believe.  However, homelessness in Alaska is not that simple.

An article from the satirical newspaper The Onion, entitled “Nation’s Homeless Less Important Than Ever”, said it best.

“Decreasing in importance by as much as 65 percent since 1992, the homeless are expected to remain at or below their current level of unimportance well into the 21st century.”

The fact is that the homeless community at large is ignored by the bulk of American public.  There are the occasional champions, like the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, and they should be recognized, but the bulk of people are content to just ignore them.

Here’s a nifty fact – according to some very conservative estimates, there are well over three thousand people currently homeless in Alaska.  Three thousand people who go each night wondering if they are going to get a meal, or even be killed by the elements.

It is a crime that this many people in this country are homeless.  Very conservative statistics across America puts the number of homeless at over five million.  What’s more, the homeless are very ill-treated by the system.

One particular issue in this regard is very confusing is the police breaking up homeless “camps” that spring up around Anchorage.  So, is the position now, “you can be homeless, but be homeless somewhere else?”  This is just very strange.

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Granted, sometimes these camps are on people’s properties, and they can be dangerous places, but really, what message is that sending?  Not to mention that when the homeless are driven out, they often lose the few possessions that they have.

One veteran, Dan Engle, who was homeless, lost his tent, sleeping bag, and even his military ribbons when the police cleared out a camp.

It says to some that people recognize there is a homeless problem, but don’t want it to be an eyesore on public land.  How pathetic is that?

Dan Sullivan seems to be of the same mind.  He had been rather irritated at a homeless man named John Martin protesting the policy the current administration has about homeless camps.  Apparently him being in front of City Hall protesting was also an eyesore.

When Martin confronted him directly, what was Sullivan’s response?

“Get a job.”

Martin was exercising his right to protest, and not only is he disregarded and insulted by Sullivan, but he then goes on to try and legislate this protestor away.  He worked to create legislation that would make illegal for somebody to be sitting or reclining on a downtown sidewalk.

Legislating taste is probably one of the worst things a politician can do because it says that not only do they not care about doing what is best for everybody, they don’t mind using their position for personal grudges.

“…I don’t ask that my opinion be made into the law,” said Bill Maher in his stand-up special I’m Swiss.  It is a brilliant quote that summarizes a huge problem that exists.

With Sullivan his lack of empathy is almost staggering.  When a homeless man was crushed by a trash compactor in a mall dumpster, his response was almost too heartless.

“It’s not something that has an instant cure, unfortunately.  There’s always going to be people that choose a certain lifestyle that results in tragic deaths like this,” said Sullivan.

Yes, the homeless a choosing to be homeless according to Sullivan.  The soldier who comes home with PTSD, he chose it.  The person who lost their home because of the shady practice of banks foreclosing homes that aren’t behind on their mortgage payments, they chose it.  The person who lost their job because of a terrible illness and lost their home, they chose that.

Another common misconception about the homeless is that they are all bums who just leech from the system.  There are homeless who hold down jobs, who are actually working very hard to survive.  And with Sullivan becoming more draconian with his efforts to deal with the problem, perhaps this says something about his level of compassion and those in government in Anchorage.

The fact is that Sullivan is at least right about one thing – there is no direct answer to this problem.  The problem that exists right now is that our culture seems to just ignore it because it is unpleasant.

So while Sullivan can live in his utopia where the homeless have a freshly pressed suit and go to their job, we all can live in the real world, where they are freezing to death and starving on our streets.