Members of the Anchorage Assembly are calling for the vice chair of a municipal advisory commission to resign after he brought up stereotypes about who experiences homelessness.
The comments under scrutiny were made during a meeting on Wednesday of the Housing, Homeless and Neighborhood Development Commission. The body advises the city’s elected leaders on a wide range of topics related to housing and homelessness.
Commissioner Jim Crawford was floating ideas for where to look for money for programs to address homelessness. Crawford conflated race and mental illness, and suggested they cause homelessness.
“If in the event that homelessness is caused by mental deficiency in our Native communities, then that should establish the priorities of where to get the money,” he said.
Alaska Natives are greatly overrepresented at about 45% among people in Anchorage experiencing homelessness. Backed by research, public health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention see racism – and its various effects – as a cause of disparities like this.
Anchorage Assembly member Felix Rivera highlighted Crawford’s comments during a meeting he chaired on Thursday, calling them appalling and racist.
“This statement has no place in our discourse around homelessness,” Rivera said. “For my part, I am sick, literally, and tired of how the Alaska Native community is treated as a punching bag on this topic.”
Rivera said the comments perpetuate stereotypes and stigma. He demanded Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration investigate, seek Crawford’s resignation and better vet its appointees.
“Mayor Bronson disagrees with Mr. Crawford’s statement,” mayor’s spokesperson Corey Allen Young said in an email on Thursday. “Mental illness crosses all boundaries of race, ethnicities and economic status. The mayor continues to fight for solutions that will help our city’s most vulnerable get access to treatment, services, and permanent housing.”
Young did not address Rivera’s demands.
Crawford, reached Thursday evening, said he has no intention of resigning. He said he did not intend to bring up Alaska Natives.
“If I said, ‘Alaska Natives,’ I don’t have any explanation for that, because I don’t recall making the statement,” he said. “If I did, it was a mistake.”
Instead, Crawford said he was focused on the prevalence of mental illness among the homeless population, and was suggesting the city tap the resources of the Alaska Mental Health Trust.
Current service provider data for Anchorage does show about 38% of all clients in the system reported having a condition that qualifies them for services paid for by the mental health trust. The trust covers people with a wide range of conditions, from Alzheimer’s to alcoholism to anxiety disorders.
Rivera said if the administration doesn’t take any action, he may formally request a written response.