Anchorage Assembly votes to support one ‘allowed’ homeless camp on municipal land

The political debate over how best to address homelessness in Anchorage continues, though it is unclear on if the resolution will be enforced by the mayor.

Anchorage Assembly chambers. Photo courtesy of the Anchorage Public Library.

The Anchorage Assembly spent a large part of their June 6 meeting discussing the issue of homelessness in Anchorage. 

Mayor Dave Bronson talked about the benefits of a proposed navigation center to help those who are homeless in his Mayor’s report, calling it a place that can “transform lives.” 

The mayor also called the current situation where many homeless individuals are camping in the municipality’s parks and green spaces “untenable, and not quite even humane.”

“But if we spend another summer expending our time, our resources, and the public’s willingness to hear us out, I’m afraid we will never reach a modicum of solution,” said Bronson. 

“I do not want people to freeze to death this winter. The nav center can prevent that.”

Hellen Fleming, one of the owners of Showdown Alaska, appeared before the assembly to testify about abatement at Cuddy Park. 

Showdown Alaska is in charge of the Sundown Solstice Festival, which took place in Cuddy Park June 16 -18. The festival was a source of political controversy, as it was cited as a reason for abating – or kicking out – homeless individuals camping at the park for safety reasons. 

Fleming said that Showdown Alaska wanted to protect the safety of the patrons of the concert and homeless people. 

“For the sake of public safety, we were told that abatement was the right choice,” said Fleming, “My only question to the city now is, why? Why was the Sullivan closed with no plan? Why weren’t sanctioned camps created from the start? Why was there no communication to campers about this festival from the very start in the area?”

Fleming urged the Assembly to create sanctioned camps before abatement at Cuddy Park ended. 

After Fleming’s testimony, the Assembly passed a resolution brought forward by Felix Rivera, who represents District 4, supporting the creation of “allowed” homeless camps in Anchorage. Mayor Dave Bronson opposed the use of the word “sanctioned camps,” citing possible liability issues with the municipality.

The passed resolution is more limited in scope compared to recommendations originally made by the Sanctioned Camps Community Task Force

The task force originally recommended that five sites be established as homeless camps. These sites were: Centennial Park Campground, 1805 Academy Drive, land adjacent to the Clitheroe Center, the midtown National Archives site, and vacant land between Viking Drive, Reeve Boulevard, and Commercial Drive. Three sites were recommended to house up to 75 people, while the remaining two were recommended to house up to 40.  The recommendation also provided names of other possible camp locations.

The task force recommended nine Anchorage School District relocatables be used at the camps and that 90 Pallet Shelters be purchased by the municipality. Pallet Shelters are marketed as a kind of shelter that can be built in less than an hour and that are cheaper than other homelessness housing solutions.

The recommendation also requested support from multiple groups to construct tiny homes, and for landowners with large lots to consider sponsoring a site.  

In the passed version of the resolution, only one site was established: an area in the National Archives site with capacity for 30 - 60 people. The proposed start date for the camp would be July 17th.

The resolution also removed all mention of Anchorage School District relocatables, and decreased the number of Pallet Shelters from 90 to 30. 

According to a June 6 Assembly Memorandum from Rivera, in the version that the assembly chose to pass “allowed camps are considered available shelter space for purposes of deciding to abate prohibited campsites.” 

Also according to the memorandum, “if camp site space is available at the allowed camp site, the Municipality may proceed to abate prohibited campsites regardless if there are no available overnight indoor shelter beds.”

Assemblymember Daniel Volland, who represents District 1, recognized the recommendations of the task force, but also said that “It is not feasible in terms of cost and workforce to implement five different locations. But this is the start of the conversation.” 

Rivera echoed what Volland said in his speech, saying his proposal was a “politically realistic” version of what the task force recommended. 

“This site is really a pilot, that’s how folks should think about it, to see what works, what doesn’t work, so …  by the time we get to summer 2024, we are in a better position to consider our decisions on allowed camps.” 

There is an important difference between a resolution and an ordinance, a point brought up by Assemblymember Cameron Perez-Verdia who represents District 3.  He asked, “does this compel the administration to do anything?”

Legal counsel at the meeting said that the resolution would establish policy and the intention of the Assembly. If the administration were to not do what the resolution asked, it would violate the resolution, but it would not violate law. 

When asked if he would implement this resolution immediately, Bronson said, “The problem comes down to money, there’s no money left to do this. I support this, but we gotta look at the money now.”

The resolution passed with a vote of 9-2, with Christopher Constant – representing District 1–  and Scott Meyers – representing District 2 – voting in opposition.