Two years into his tenure, Anchorage Mayor Bronson reflects on homeless policy, shelter plans and Assembly relationship

A man with a white shirt, yellow tie and suspenders outside.
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson outside Alaska Public Media on Tuesday. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson has just entered his third year leading the state’s largest city. His tenure has been marked by a growing homelessness crisis, a contentious relationship with the Assembly and frustration over a slow response to a historic series of snowstorms

Bronson spoke with Alaska Public Media’s Wesley Early about his tenure, and says his biggest achievement has been renewed focus in repairing the Port of Alaska. 

Listen to the full interview:

This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Mayor Dave Bronson: Well, coming out of COVID, we’ve kind of reopened the city. That’s a big thing. But I think the most important thing — it’s not flashy, it doesn’t get a lot of attention — but it’s reorganizing how the port is being rebuilt. That port feeds 90% of this state, all of Anchorage, and it’s in dire need of repair. We’re in the middle of a long modernization program. I took that project and the engineering and the designing and the building of it and kind of reassigned it to a different group, to an engineering firm actually that’s built ports before. That would be Jacobs, and they’ve got a lot of experience. And that got us back on track, I think. So it’s not flashy, it’s not cool, but I’ll be honest with you, it’s the single most important project in the state by far.

Wesley Early: Do you have any regrets two years into your tenure?

DB: Oh, I think a little bit early on, you know, coming out of COVID and all the contention, I could have done more to have alleviated that and tamp things down. I think I spoke three or four times from the podium during Assembly meetings — not podium from the dais — and asked people to, you know, just settle down and quit, you know, quit screaming at the Assembly and screaming at me a little bit, but I wasn’t receiving much of that. And I should have been, I think, far more vocal in that. You know, I made a mistake, we took down that shield or whatever, that plexiglass shield. I don’t know what I was thinking there. So that was a mistake.

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But you know, since [Assembly chair] Chris [Constant] has taken over, I think it’s settled down quite a bit. You know, I think we work far better together. We’re getting some stuff done. We’re making some progress. And the new Assembly members, I think they’re more amenable and willing to listen, and so we’re communicating more and more. That’s growing. So a lot of improvement there.

WE: So I’d like to start with homelessness. All of the city’s shelter beds are currently full. Meanwhile, we’re seeing homelessness encampments growing around town. The big one’s over at 3rd and Ingra. And there’s been a record number of outdoor deaths with 29.

DB: 31.

WE: Is it 31 now? 

DB: Yeah, I just talked to the police chief yesterday. It’s 31.

WE: Oh. Well, you know, two years into your administration, what’s the current plan to address the city’s homelessness crisis? And where do you think the money for that plan would come from?

DB: Well, the money — I’ll answer the second part first — the money, just so your listeners know, the city has spent $161 million on homelessness in the last three years, ending at the end of ‘22. We’ve done some really good things. We’ve partnered with some great partners — Providence, Salvation Army — a lot of really good partners there. But at the end of the day, you can’t have a homeless response system without having a shelter, and we don’t have a shelter of any consequence. And we have, as of two weeks ago, the count was 775 unsheltered people. And to get to the point, and this is a point of legality, and I think you need to understand that this is, is that until I create 776 shelter beds, I’m not allowed to abate these camps that are on public property. Private property is an entirely different issue. That’s trespassing and the owners have the right to compel those people to leave. But on public property, I can’t do that. People say, “Mayor… they’re on Northern Lights and Seward Highway, certainly Third and Ingra, Davis Park.” I’m not allowed by law to abate those camps, make them go away. And at the end of the day… and I’ll challenge you a little bit on the notion that all these camps are growing. No, they’re shifting. We’re still sitting at an aggregate of about 775. That’s rough. But they’re shifting and we’re kind of playing whack a mole, but we’re compelled to do that by law, and it’s based on a court decision, Martin v. Boise from 2017. So we’re in the 9th Circuit Court, so we have to abide by that. And we need some relief from that. We need a large shelter. There’s just no question about it. Everyone admits that.

I proposed a plan — now to your first question — I proposed a plan and I was shot down for two years. At the end of the day, I will provide here, within a couple of weeks, our housing homeless coordinator, Alexis Johnson will create a cold weather shelter plan. That shelter plan, we are not required by law to provide space, we’re required to provide a plan. I suspect that plan will include things like churches, nonprofits will have to open their space to these people. The Sullivan Arena, as you now know, is going to be in the back in the entertainment business. The people of Fairview have paid the price long enough. As far as I’m concerned, that’s over. We’re going back to normal operations there.

RELATED: Anchorage’s Sullivan Arena will soon reopen as entertainment venue

WE: So with the Sullivan off the table, and returning as an entertainment venue, how likely do you think that there will be a shelter in place by winter?

DB: That’s a good question for the Assembly. They’re working on this. They’re studying it. I think we need to be building and not studying. We did a great big study just before I came into office, a group paid for a study and we looked at 71 different sites. We came up to a building on a site. That site is Elmore and Tudor. That building was designed for that site. The Assembly, a couple members, had input on the design of what went into the building, on the inside of it. And then it was stopped and it wasn’t restarted — the construction. In the middle of a concrete pour, it was for the foundation, it was stopped. And that’s a question not for me. That’s a question for the Assembly. What are their plans for a shelter in the winter? I’ve done everything I can for two years. I’m out of ideas.

WE: Well, I’m curious, because I know that around the time the Assembly stopped moving on that project, it was revealed that your administration authorized construction without the Assembly’s approval. And that soured the discussions. Are you concerned at all that the move from your administration… I guess, what happened there with the approval?

DB: Well, there’s a new process called CMGC, Construction Management General Contract. I have to admit I’m not real familiar with the process. And I don’t think the Assembly, all of them are. It’s kind of, I would say, a convoluted process. But what it does is it saves time and it saves money on construction projects. I’m not saying it’s a bad process at all. In fact, it’s probably really good. But it creates this iterative process, where at each iteration, you gotta go back to the Assembly and get approval. One of those steps — I don’t know, second, third, fourth step — we didn’t do that. But then again, in our defense, they had already approved the money. We had spent $800,000 on engineering, and we bought the building for $2 million. No one in their right mind, including my staff, would think that they wouldn’t approve it. That doesn’t excuse us, but we gave the reasons on what happened, and why it happened the way it did. And we did that within moments. And they had a chance more than a year ago, nearly a year ago, to start the project back up and they never did. And now we’re out of money. They spent the money on other things, the roughly $11 million for that project. So again, when it comes to a shelter, that’s entirely in the Assembly’s hands. I’m not in the shelter business.

RELATED: Bronson officials greenlit $4.9M to build East Anchorage shelter without Assembly approval

WE: So your first year in office saw a pretty contentious relationship with you and the Assembly. You noted that earlier. There were numerous vetoes and overrides. You mentioned the rowdy Assembly meetings. How is the relationship different now than it was in the beginning? And what are your goals for this relationship in your third year as mayor?

DB: Well, about a year and a half ago, roughly, I just came to the conclusion… you know, I kind of learned the job a little bit. And I just said, “I gotta get work done and I have to work with the Assembly.” So the contentiousness, I just made a conscious decision, we aren’t going to do any vetoes unless it’s a legal issue or it’s an executive authority issue. If they’re creating an ordinance which takes away from the charter, detracts from the charter, that is, the mayor’s authority to manage the city, then we’ll veto that. And if that fails, and it often does, then we go to court. And I think we won in court twice on that issue and we’ll keep doing it, because I gave an oath to protect the constitution and protect the charter. And the charter says that the mayor, through the municipal manager, has the authority to manage the city. And so we don’t allow intrusions into executive authority.

WE: So I’m curious also about this Clean Slate approach that’s been touted by your administration and the Assembly as a way to…

DB: No, no, no, no. 

WE: Is it just the Assembly? 

DB: Not my administration. That’s an Assembly. Mr. [Felix] Rivera does that. That’s his thing, his phraseology. That’s their issue. They’re moving on that. They’re studying. And, again, that’s when I say studying, that’s the Clean Slate thing. When it comes to sheltering, which you need to know, I don’t concern myself a lot with the treatment beds and the hotel conversions. I’ve supported them. I continue to support them. It’s a good idea. It’s a phase of treating someone from beginning to end on the homeless spectrum. My focus has always been just on the sheltering aspect, because that’s where you interface with public safety. So I have to have some control of that footprint, where police and fire and public safety at large brings people at that first point of contact, because it interfaces with police and fire and public safety. And then if we got a site up and running, it would really, I think, be really nice at some point — Tudor and Elmore — if then, once we’re comfortable with it, then we could turn that over to, say a nonprofit to operate as long as we have a say so and what happens within that building. Because there’s a law enforcement and public safety component to that site.

WE: I guess I’m also wondering, the Tudor and Elmore site as it’s designed right now, would have about 150 beds. I think there was a surge capacity for 200. Is that right?

DB: That’s an arbitrary limitation put on by a couple members of the previous Assembly. When you come into that building, it’s a little over 29,000 square feet. It could hold a lot more than 150 people. So we have looked far and wide. Where does the 150 come? I personally talked to experts who say, “Yeah, we don’t have any idea where 150 came from.” How much it would hold, you know, you do some math in square foot per person. You know, for a cot and locker plus common living areas. And you’d make a calculation, but I do know it’s more than 150.

WE: In your mind, how many people could the shelter hold? Considering that there are, you know, more than 750 people houseless.

DB: Well, it depends on what you want for the therapeutic outcomes on the inside. We don’t want high-density like we had a few years ago at Brother Francis. I mean, do you want cots that are converted to bunk beds so you’re two high? Well, that almost doubles your density. Do we want that? I’m not an expert, but probably not. We’re always looking at what we call therapeutic outcomes, positive therapeutic outcomes for the tenants or the customers that are living in there. We want the best for them and high density doesn’t help. I would think… someone gave the number here when we had the building at twice that size — because remember, I wanted a large facility — we did a square footage and someone did some math. And all of a sudden, it got out into the media that it’s 1000 people. Well, we don’t need 1,000. It would be nice to have the flexibility to get up to 775 today, because we need to understand, if we had 776 beds, you know, one more than the number, then I could abate all the camps. And I could compel those 776 people then to go into that shelter, or at least leave public space. You can’t break the law and they are breaking municipal code. But I’m not allowed to enforce that until I provide a place for them to go, which would be that shelter.

WE: So it’s fair to say at this point, you’re hoping that whatever shelter is stood up, you can match it with whatever the current houseless population is?

DB: I gotta get to 776. I gotta deal in numbers. Because that’s what this portion of this discussion is all about is what are the numbers. And I think the 29,000-30,000 square foot facility at Tudor and Elmore could handle that. Remember the secret is you can have a perfectly designed building, and this building was designed for this by the way, and it’s used in other facilities. They have 950 in the same building in Reno. They have 1,000 in a similar building in Los Angeles. The secret is in the operations of it, the management of it. It has to be intensively managed. And there is some design components. But you can have a very bad building, let’s call it Sullivan Arena, for homelessness. A very bad building design-wise. But if you manage it very well you can have good therapeutic outcomes. You could have a perfectly designed building, a very good designed building like we have on Tudor and Elmore — or would have at Tudor and Elmore — but if you manage improperly, you’re gonna have bad therapeutic outcomes and processes. It will fail at that point. That’s why you have to have two things: a designed site, and then management, you know, intensive management, effective professional management. And we’ve got a couple companies in town that can do that. And we can get there. But right now people need to know, Third and Ingra, Davis Park, Chester Creek, Campbell Creek, all these sites, and we’re all very well aware of them, we’re not allowed to abate those camps legally. It’s illegal to abate those camps until I provide enough shelter space.

WE: I’m curious about the city’s approach to homelessness. It seems like there’s a lot more alignment between the administration and community partners with the idea of Housing First. We’re seeing it with the Barratt Inn that’s going to be stood up here at the start of next month, the Golden Lion being put online. Has your approach changed to sort of a more Housing First method and getting more sort of housing for people?

DB: The administrator, senior administrator for the Northwest part of the country from HUD [Housing and Urban Development] was in last week. And she gave a speech at the Barratt Inn, that you spoke of. She spoke right after me. And she says we need to be clear on the language of this phrase called Housing First. It doesn’t mean that and she admitted it. And I spoke to her, I said, “You got a marketing problem with it.” And she says, “Yeah, we kind of came out of the chute wrong with that.” Housing First doesn’t mean housing only. That’s her phrase. And it shouldn’t, and it really doesn’t. But we get caught up into that, like the first thing a homeless person needs is a converted hotel room or an apartment. That’s not. Because I spent a lot of time in camps, in our homeless camps. A lot of time, nearly every day. And I talk to these people. And a lot of these people, I would say well over 50%, are psychologically challenged to the point you can’t put them behind a closed door in an apartment or a converted hotel room, because it’s not safe for them, or anyone that lives with them. And it’s not good for the building, because I’m paying some pretty extensive bills for the repairs of some of these hotel conversions, because the people go in and damage them. So I would say shelter first. Because when you get to a shelter, that’s your first opportunity to touch a professional, you know, a case manager. One of the most valuable professions in the city right now is a case manager, a psychologist, a trained case manager, and getting these people the help that they need. Because again, we’re always looking for the therapeutic, the positive therapeutic outcome at the end. And eventually, yes, housing is a big part of it. And they’ll have to get to there, everyone has to have a place. But there’s a lot of challenges along the way.

We have people that live in these camps, and they have no interest in coming indoors. They have no interest. You can tell them. And then there’s others that will come indoors when it gets… I was talking to a young gal at Chanshtnu [Park] the other day, I think it was Wednesday, I was there visiting with a couple of Assembly members. And I say, “Hey, what are you going to do when it gets cold?” Because that’s how… I’m always looking six months ahead. Where are we in December? And in last winter, I was, “Where are we in July and August.” Well, we’re in July and August, and we’re not where we need to be; we’re not even close. And she says, “Well, when it gets cold, I’ll go into the Sullivan.” And I said, “Well, that’s probably not going to happen. So what’s your next choice?” She says, “Well, I’ll go back to St. Michael’s in the state of Alaska.” And she says, “I have family there.” And I said, “Oh, well you got an opportunity.” “Yeah, but,” she says, “I don’t really want to live there. I want to live here.” And she says, “Oh, by the way, Mr. Mayor.” She says, “My youngest sister died on the streets. Froze to death in Anchorage this last winter.” And that’s really bad. But you know what’s as bad or almost as bad as that? She said it like it was expected or it was normal. In the 21st century in Alaska, a very rich state. And somehow it’s accepted that people can just die on the street from exposure and we’re not upset about it. Even with her younger sister dying that way, she seemed to be somehow okay with that. And I’ll be honest with you, for me, from my worldview, that’s not okay, that she is in a position where she has to accept that as some kind of a normal other than a tragedy. It’s an absolute tragedy.

WE: Right. Before we move on from homelessness, the last thing I’d like to ask about is a comment you made last week to the ADN and sort of fleshed out a little more at a press conference about a proposal to pay for plane tickets to fly homeless people out. The plan’s gotten a little bit of criticism. I think some of it has to do with the idea that it’s Anchorage, kind of pushing its homeless problem somewhere else. There are some other issues about how well it could work. Could you just address that criticism? I understand that you kind of made the comment at the end of an interview. But can you address the criticism to that proposal?

DB: Well, we’re getting a lot of feedback on it. And the vast majority is very positive. At the end of the day, you know, it’s really sad that I had to get to this point. If I had a shelter, I could allow them to go to, I would much rather have that. But I’m looking six months ahead. And I’m looking at people freezing to death on the street. I have to do something, I’m responsible, I get that. So I’m going to do whatever I can that’s legal. And this is clearly legal. We’re not going to compel anyone to leave. We’re going to say if you want to go to a warmer climate or you want to go somewhere where you have a family or church or some kind of support structure, we’re gonna get you an airline ticket. We’re going to have to vet you a bit, say if someone’s out on a warrant, we’re not going to transport. It’s illegal for us to do that. So there is a vetting process. And I have to do that, because at the end of the day, life is what matters to me. And, you know in life, politicians, when they make mistakes, sometimes a year or two or three years later, or longer, even much longer, people can die because politicians make mistakes. And I’m looking at the middle of November, when we always get those cold snaps in November, what do I want to be looking at? I want to be looking at nobody dying on our streets, I am morally compelled to make decisions today, when it’s 70 degrees out and deal with problems when it’s minus 10. That’s… I have a moral imperative to do that.

WE: So I’d like to shift to your administration. By our count, in the past two years, more than 25 executive appointments have quit or been fired. How would you explain that level of turnover?

DB: Well, the big picture is everyone is an individual story. And no one is leaving for any one reason. I know I get blamed because people are leaving. They don’t want to work for me throughout the whole city. Well we have over 2,700 employees. And I’ll be honest with you, I’m competing with the corporate world. I’m competing with the state. I lost three accountants recently to AIDEA. We’ve got to get to some answers on this. And people leave. Some of these departures were problematic, I get it. But I mean, I look at, say, Mayor [Mark] Begich’s tenure. He went through a lot of OMB directors. That’s a very… and no one seems to bring that in the media into context. And all of these have to be seen in a context. First year administrations, this always happens. It doesn’t matter if it’s Joe Biden, or Donald Trump or Dave Bronson or Mark Begich or Ethan Berkowitz, it just doesn’t matter. This happens. You got to get to a point, especially with new administrations like mine, I don’t have a political legacy. I’m new to politics. I hired the best I can at the time, and some people don’t get along with each other. Some people have… because their resume is built because they’re working for Muni government, their resume looks better and they can go to other places. We’ve had some of that. But I’ve found no indication from the people that came in with me that they couldn’t work for me. I mean, I might not be… I’m probably not the easiest guy to work for. I’m fairly demanding. But people get to make their own choice when they want to leave.

WE: And I guess touching on that, you know, there have been several wrongful termination lawsuits. There were a lot of very damning allegations from former municipal manager Amy Demboski. Former HR director Niki Tshibaka had described a “toxic, hostile and demoralizing work environment” in his resignation letter. What would you say to Anchorage voters and taxpayers who are worried that their city government is kind of rife with these sorts of issues? I understand people moving on to other places, but you did mention that there are a couple problematic exits.

DB: There were. I would say to Niki, Niki’s a personal friend, as is his wife. To this day, we text routinely. That “hostile,” I think he could have phrased that, been more specific on where that hostility came from. It didn’t come from me. And then the other issue, the former municipal manager, we have an agreement that I’m going to hold to, we don’t talk about that. And I know the media gets real frustrated because we don’t talk about HR issues. Well, in my recruitment, and especially in my recruitment of people to come work for the city, they have to be confident that when they come and work for me or any other administration, that in a month or two years or five years, the administration isn’t going to be in the media like a forum like this and talking about them. If I do that my ability to recruit people becomes very difficult. Most of the professionals that work for the city, and I’m just telling you, I am stunningly impressed with the quality of worker, and directors and professionals that we have for the city. You know, I was wrong before. I used to say, “Government workers, yada, yada,” because I came out of the corporate, military world. And then I got here and I found out how good the employees are. I came out of the Air Force in the airlines. And I would say, finest people I’ve ever worked for, until I got to the Municipality of Anchorage. And I learned a lesson. I do not criticize municipal workers at all. I am stunned, quite frankly, stunned at how good they are.

WE: So your administration faced a lot of backlash last winter over the response to the historic snowfall. From your perspective, what went wrong there? And do you believe your administration is more prepared this year? 

DB: Well, I think your question answers itself: historic snowfall. It’s a volume issue. It’s a numbers issue. And could we have done things better? Immediately after that I directed a review process, we call it a roundtable. We have on the calendar the third meeting of that roundtable, where we come to final solutions. We need to get back to 2008, 2009, when we had a lot of flexibility in our response to snow falls. For example, this was a big thing for me during that series of snow falls, it was very problematic. We would have been far better to get that six feet of snow all at once, instead of two feet, two days off two feet. That was the problem. But I wanted more flexibility. I wanted to have the ability to say… we know when a lot of snow is coming. Why can’t I tell people to stay, bring your computer home tomorrow, maybe the next two days and get your work done at home. And just don’t come in, stay off the roads. We had two workers that came in on snowshoes, they were so dedicated. But part of the problem is I don’t have the flexibility to tell them to stay home. And it’s because if they don’t, if they don’t come into work and physically punch a timecard, they don’t get paid. And they shouldn’t be penalized for working at home because they’re working and they should be paid. I don’t have that physical tool in place with the computer system with SAP to allow me that flexibility as an executive. And I got to get to that. I got to say, “Hey, the roads are icy.” It’s not just snow, actually more dangerous is the black ice, the icy snow and the icy streets. And I want to be able to have that flexibility to say, “Hey, it’s going to be icy tomorrow. It’s raining out now. And it’s going to freeze tonight. Stay home.” And so that’s one of the things I’m demanding is that we get to that level of flexibility. You should be able to somehow check in for work. Instead of a card, you should be able to log into your Muni-supplied notebook computer that you use all the time and sign in for work. I mean, this is the 21st century. I mean, I can hire (Elon) Musk to come in and do it or something. I don’t know. We’ll figure this out.

WE: I understand that last year was a historic snowfall.  But do you plan or do you think that you’ve got a plan in place that will prevent people from sort of being down to one lane on their streets? You know, and sort of… a lot of the snowplow problems that we had last year?

DB: Well, the snow plowing, there’s two things that happen. We clear streets and then we haul out snow and those are two different functions. Same people, different equipment by and large. And yes, when we get to this round table, we’ve got a director, Paul VanLandingham, one of the smartest. And when I think of really exceptional public employees, his face always seems to come to mind. He’s just Charlie Hustle, gets the job done. He is incredibly responsible and responsive. And he’ll get us to the answer. Just so you know, I don’t plow. I had a school board member say I went out and personally got 28 school buses stuck and, “You shut down school for two days” and this is a tragedy. Well one, I don’t plow snow. I provide budgets to do that. That’s my level. And two, that was pretty rich coming from the school board member who voted to keep the school shut down for almost two years. So… we’ve got a great team. We could have done, I could have done better on that snowfall. Certainly. I was getting hammered by everyone. But it was a historic snowfall. I’m just looking at the data. But Paul is telling us we could have done better. He will get us to a plan where we will do better. We added a lot of money to the snow plowing budget. But guess what’s going to happen? Same thing happened to Dan Sullivan, by the way, Mayor Sullivan. He had a big snowfall. It was inadequate. They came back, added a lot of money. And then we had several years of extremely low snowfall and the property taxpayers are saying, “Why are we paying extra property taxes for snow removal? We haven’t had snow in two months. And it’s February,” that kind of thing. So but that’s called the business of politics. Running a city, I’m supposed to take that kind of abuse, good or bad. It just doesn’t matter. As long as folks don’t abuse my Muni employees, which kind of happened a couple of times in the Assembly, for various reasons. That’s where we go to war. You attack one of my employees. I will find out a way to make sure you don’t do that again; you attack me. I’ll sit there and take it all day long. 

WE: Well, you have filed to run for reelection next year. Your current, most prominent opponents would be former Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance and former legislator Chris Tuck. What’s your pitch to Anchorage voters as to why you should continue to serve as mayor? 

DB: Well, I have clearly a different worldview on how government should operate. I’m a… the government that governs least governs best. Government is not the solution to all of our problems, too often anymore in America, especially in the more woke left areas, government is the problem. Too much government. Government needs to be right-sized and that differs based on what jurisdiction you’re in. But I think quite frankly, the single biggest social or cultural issue facing us is the homeless issue. And simply look at every last jurisdiction, from Seattle down to San Diego, down Minneapolis, name the city it just doesn’t matter, that are governed by these strident, woke leftists. Homelessness is destroying these cities. I watched Mayor [London] Breed from San Francisco the other day last week, on TV appealing to these retailers to come back to her city. Well, her methodology for solving the homeless problem has failed. But they think somehow they just keep doing more of the same, it will somehow get better. It’s not going to get better. You just can’t keep providing carrots. To mix a metaphor here, you can’t keep providing carrots to the homeless, and no stick. That is, I’m willing to help you. Dave Bronson, I’m willing to help you if you’re homeless, but you have got to participate. It’s just not a giveaway. I was in again, Chanshtnu the other day talking to this young, looks like about a 30-year-old guy. Very intelligent, educated. And I asked him the same series of questions because I always asked the same: “What are you gonna do in the wintertime?” And he said, “When it gets cold, we’ll go to the Sullivan.” And I said, “If that doesn’t happen, what should I do?” And he said, “Well, you got to provide me a tiny house.” He kept talking about tiny houses and he wasn’t psychiatrically challenged. He was what I thought was quite normal. And I said, “Well, this and what about a shelter? And if we can help you get this.” And he kept coming, “Well, you got to provide me with some kind of shelter.” And finally I said, “Michael, anywhere in your solution, does this involve you going to work — you’re obviously very physically fit — going to work and helping out and getting out of this?” He says, “No, I just need a tiny house or a pallet house.” He kept going through this litany. And he wasn’t psychologically challenged that I could tell at all. So again, the JFK thing, you know, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” And that’s the appeal I think we need to get back to in a traditional sense is what are you willing to do to fix yourself? And if you’re not willing to help yourself, why should the taxpayer through their property taxes have to pay you to live and not contribute? Everyone has to contribute that can and some of these people, certainly not all of them that are in these homeless camps, are able to contribute. They just want to live this nomadic, and for us problematic, lifestyle in our public spaces. Public spaces, our parks are for our kids and for our bike riders, and they’re not for people to live and defecate and urinate in, not to get to base here. So again, I think in fact, I was talking to three people at Chanshtnu, one of them was an Assembly person, and then a couple other people were very engaged. Anyone would consider them quite left, all three of them. And I said, “Well, what’s the fix? We got to, we got to get rid of the carrots and go to sticks, you know, on that metaphor, and I’m gonna go.” And one of them said, “Well, why don’t we get organized a group of us and get all the same color T-shirts, and we’ll come in, we’ll clean them out ourselves?” These were strident leftists, plain and simple. And I go, “Wait a sec, you’re talking vigilantism.” And I said, “I don’t want to hear this. I don’t want to talk about it. We’re not going to do vigilantism, because no matter how bad things are with homelessness, we can make them worse.” And I’m just here to tell you vigilantism is worse. So that’s what happens though when government doesn’t solve the problems that government is compelled to solve, homeless being the case here. We wind up with conversations by people about vigilantism. That’s crazy talk, in my mind. Solve the problem. There’s plenty of problems after that. Let’s solve this one, get a process going and then move on to the next problem. We’ve got some challenges. We need to build homes in the city, we need to build a lot of homes. A lot. And that actually does contribute to the homeless situation. That won’t solve it all by far. But it’s a systemic problem. And we need systemic, intelligent solutions that just don’t involve throwing $161 million in three years at homelessness.

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

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