Esteban Diaz has been staying at Centennial Campground for several months, after Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson closed the Sullivan Arena shelter in late June and began waiving camping fees at the campsite. The city officially closed the campground on Saturday. City officials began bussing campers to the re-opened Sullivan Arena shelter at the same time.
But, by Tuesday afternoon, Diaz was still among dozens of campers still there. Several Anchorage Police vehicles were parked at the gate with officers walking around and meeting with Diaz and others.
“I was just here, putting my stuff up and several people came over, police officers, and they gave me an eviction notice,” Diaz said.
The paper Diaz was given was originally a 10-day notice to leave, but officers crossed out the 10 and wrote in a 15. The notice was dated Oct. 4. Campers across the site were given similar forms. Camp abatement notices were also stapled onto many trees in the campground.
A few campsites down, fellow camper Jeffery Butler said he knew for most of September that the camp was going to close, but he wasn’t sure what alternative there would be.
“For almost a couple weeks now, there’s been a sign on this whiteboard that said we pretty much have 30 days to go, but they didn’t tell us where we’re going until just recently,” Butler said.
The Anchorage Assembly approved an emergency winter sheltering plan on Sep. 26, five days before the camp’s scheduled closure. The plan included re-opening the Sullivan Arena for up to 150 people, and expanding shelter space at Brother Francis Shelter, Covenant House and Bean’s Cafe. It also would use the former Golden Lion hotel building as additional housing. Last Thursday, Mayor Dave Bronson confirmed the city would re-open the Sullivan.
“Now that they picked Sullivan again, I know that me and the people I mess with, we don’t want to go to Sullivan again because it’s just a hassle there,” Butler said.
Butler says he’s mainly concerned about rules the Sullivan has for people who stay there. He said there was a 9 p.m. curfew when he stayed there previously, and he wasn’t thrilled about having to get his bags checked every time he showed up.
“I get where they’re coming from, but at the same time, I don’t see why I should do that,” Butler said. “I’m not on probation, I’m not on any stipulations. I’m just having a hard time, so I don’t see why I have to follow by those kind of rules.”
Butler’s tent was among dozens still set up at the campground. Many are spread out by each individual campsite, with tarps thrown over for protection from a rain-heavy August and September. Water and power were still on Tuesday afternoon, though the city said they’d shut them off when the camp closed Saturday. The bathrooms were also still opened.
Butler isn’t the only camper who doesn’t plan on going to the Sullivan. Eric Anderson says he’d been camping at Centennial for about a month before the Sullivan closed.
“It was good and quiet, and it was a good alternative to staying in a hotel, which I was doing, waiting to find housing, ” Anderson said. “I was looking to buy a trailer and I didn’t want to rent an apartment. I decided it was summer and I would come out here, and pay the $25 a night. It was nice, it was comfortable, it was quiet, it was clean.”
Anderson said he noticed a change at Centennial once the mayor started directing people there this summer who had stayed at the Sullivan shelter.
“I could see for a lot of people, it became unsafe here,” Anderson said. “Being an adult male, and having all my faculties, it wasn’t dangerous for me. But for a lot of people, it was and staff just didn’t do anything.”
Like Butler and Diaz, Anderson received a 15-day eviction notice from police Tuesday afternoon. He said he’s upset that the front gate is closed, meaning that once he leaves with his vehicle, he can’t bring it back in.
“I can’t take it out,” Anderson said. “If I do, I have to park ‘em out on the street which leaves it subject to being towed, which they’ve told us throughout the summer, ‘If you park them out there, we might tow them. We’re not going to tell you for sure.’”
City health department spokesman Tyler Sachtleben said the firm deadline for campers to leave Centennial is Oct. 20, including the 15-day eviction notice and an extra day to move.
Diaz said he’s reluctantly going to head to the Sullivan Arena before his eviction date.
“I am going to the Sullivan, but I don’t want to be so much dependent on the Sullivan Arena. It’s too crowded, too many people,” he said. “People steal a lot, anything you leave around.”
Anderson and Butler said they are firm no’s on going to the shelter.
Anderson doesn’t think Sullivan was managed well, and thinks it’s had a negative impact on the area.
“Everybody in the community knows that’s a farce. That is terrible down there. It’s dangerous, it’s horrible,” he said. “The conditions are horrible, the area becomes terrible. It’s just not safe.”
He said he may park his vehicle out in the woods to camp. He doesn’t know of anywhere else to go indoors except the Sullivan.
For Butler, he’s concerned about what seems like a singular focus on housing from city officials. He thinks the city needs a variety of facilities to address the homeless populations.
“They’re blanketing it, like everybody just needs housing,” Butler said. “That’s not it. There’s people here with mental health disorders. There’s people here with drug problems. There’s people here with ID problems. There’s a whole bunch of things going on, and that’s the thing I didn’t like.”
Butler said he’s hoping to continue applying for housing, but hasn’t had any luck with working with providers at the campground.
Next Tuesday, the Assembly is set to vote on final contracts for making 50 more rooms available at the Alex Hotel near the Spenard area of town. They will also vote on making the Golden Lion a temporary emergency shelter.