Anchorage Parks and Recreation employees in reflective vests made their way around some city-owned properties in Midtown on Wednesday morning with a staple gun and stack of notices warning that campsites in the area will be cleared in early June.
They posted the notices on trees all over the Cuddy Family Midtown Park area. It’s the city’s first concrete step this year toward clearing a sizable homeless encampment.
The abatement targets a public space that’s hosting a big outdoor music festival next month. Right now, it’s home to dozens of people living in tents. Volunteers and nonprofits come weekly with hot meals, medical help and service referrals. The number of encampments here, and at other public spaces around Anchorage have been growing since the city shut down its cold-weather shelters on May 1.
At the same time, city leaders are currently working on two separate policy proposals related to homeless encampments: one from the mayor’s administration to clarify where, when and how it will clear camps. The other, a community task force’s recommendations the Assembly will consider to legalize some specific sites for camping. Neither policy has been adopted, leaving campers uncertain about how long they can stay put.
Folks in and around Cuddy Park got an answer on Wednesday.
“June 6 is the date that we’re targeting to begin the abatement,” said Mike Braniff, director of Anchorage Parks and Recreation.
His said his crews will work with police to move people out and clean up what’s left behind, though he said most people leave willingly. The process will be gradual, wrapping up on June 15.
“What we’re doing is we’re trying to allow ourselves enough time to have an orderly process with a relaxed feel, rather than trying to get in and do this in four days, or something like that, which creates a kind of a, just a sense of rush which isn’t healthy for the overall – you know, for everybody involved in the abatement process,” Braniff said.
The city’s been reluctant to clear camps this year until policies are updated, and Braniff said no other large-scale abatements are planned at the moment. But he said the upcoming Sundown Solstice Festival set this camp apart. The three-day outdoor concert was permitted months ago and thousands of people are expected to attend beginning June 16.
“The event is permitted for alcohol,” Braniff said. “And I think when we look at the large number of campers, and we consider both the unsheltered as well as the concertgoers and we just think about public safety in general, I think it’s a unique situation.”
City and outreach workers aren’t telling displaced campers where to go. There isn’t enough shelter space, and there are no sanctioned camping sites.
Owen Hutchinson, a spokesperson for the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, said there are consequences of displacing campers.
“We’re really uncomfortable with people having to move multiple times,” he said. “People lose their stuff, it’s hard to store their stuff, and it’s really hard to maintain contact and trust with campers when they’re constantly being moved.”
Hutchinson said the coalition’s weekly outreach events will continue, though the locations may change to meet campers where they are.
In an email, the Assembly’s Housing and Homelessness Committee Chair Felix Rivera said that a work session will be scheduled for June 2 on a measure that would move toward sanctioning campsites. The committee also got word Wednesday that the administration had finished a draft of its updated policy for abating camps, but details were not immediately available.