Anchorage task force recommends opening supervised campsites for the homeless 

a sign on a tree
New campsites, pictured here on May 19, 2023, have sprung up in a wooded area off of Anchorage’s Chester Creek Trail where a six-month old abatement notice is posted. (Jeremy Hsieh/Alaska Public Media)

Update, Tuesday evening:

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday narrowly rejected taking up a resolution introduced by member Felix Rivera in support of creating sanctioned campsites for the homeless. The recommendations came from the Sanctioned Camps Community Task Force.

Some members, like Assembly chair Chris Constant, said the resolution, which was introduced during the Tuesday night meeting, was lengthy and required more time for the body to get through. 

“I’m supportive of having a conversation, but there are some 50 pages here… 30 pages, and I haven’t read any of it,” he said. “And for me, it’s confounding to think about taking up this question tonight.”

Constant was one of seven Assembly members who voted against moving the resolution forward.

The decision does not prevent the resolution from being introduced at a future meeting.

Original story:

An Anchorage task force is recommending opening specific sites across the city to supervised camping for people without homes. 

Each of the five sites would come with its own operating conditions, with capacities ranging from 40 to 100 people. Some sites would be seasonal, some year-round. The mix would accommodate tents, people sleeping in cars, existing buildings, portable buildings and tiny homes. 

The proposed sites come from the Sanctioned Camps Community Task Force’s first set of recommendations to the Anchorage Assembly, to be considered as a resolution Tuesday night. 

The proposal comes three weeks after the city shut down its winter shelters, leading hundreds more people to sleep outdoors without clarity about where they can and can’t go. The Sullivan Arena alone was sheltering 360 people a night until recently. The Assembly slashed its capacity down to a quarter for only the most vulnerable users. It’s set to finally close at the end of the month. 

If the task force’s resolution passes, it won’t immediately change any of the city’s camping codes or the ambiguous legal status of existing camps around the city. Rather, it calls for various codes to be updated, suspending some building and land use codes to legalize some sanctioned camps and additional funding measures to pay for the recommendations. 

The site recommendations fall roughly into five of the of the city’s six Assembly Districts. The resolution would also ask the state to consider opening its Eagle River Campground as a sanctioned camp in the one Assembly district without a more fleshed-out recommendation. 

“I do appreciate the intent to spread the camps throughout the city so everyone has an impact, everyone sees this, everyone takes part in trying to make it better,” said Assembly member Randy Sulte, who participated in some of the task force meetings. 

He said having smaller, scattered sites is easier to manage and works well for both the people served and surrounding communities, though it is more expensive than running a mass shelter. 

“But until you put it out to the public, like we are tonight, that’s when you get the real feedback from the community,” he said. “Whether or not we will pass it, and it’ll probably be torn apart, but it’s kind of a necessary part of the process, we’re getting it started.” 

The Assembly created the task force in April. Its participants include Assembly members, nonprofit leaders, city workers, business interests and unaffiliated community members. 

Silvia Villamides, head of the Downtown Community Council and Alaska Hospitality Retailers, is one of the task force’s leaders. In a news release Monday evening, she said the recommendations are about bringing back a sense of order, safety and sanitation to the city’s green spaces.

Caroline Storm is another task force leader. 

“We have to bring humanity back to Anchorage and do right by the people who have so few options in our community,” Storm said in the release. “That means coming up with imperfect solutions for a very difficult situation. These aren’t easy decisions, but we can’t do nothing.”

The task force’s resolution also calls for community council input on potential camp sites, buying emergency shelters and requesting that the state and private landowners sponsor additional camps.

Sulte is also introducing a resolution with Assembly member Kevin Cross and Mayor Dave Bronson at Tuesday’s meeting to commit $7 million to build a shelter and navigation center at a police impound lot near the intersection of Tudor and Elmore roads. 

The concept is a scaled down version of what candidate Bronson campaigned on in 2021. A contractor began work on it last year, but without Assembly approval to pay for it. The Assembly suspended the project, and the contractor is suing to get paid. 

Sulte said his resolution would be up for public hearing and vote at the Assembly’s June 6 meeting.

RELATED: If Anchorage doesn’t act soon, ‘we’re going to be putting people back in Sullivan’ 

a portrait of a man outside

Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him atjhsieh@alaskapublic.orgor 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremyhere.

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