Anchorage Assembly temporarily boosts police, outreach and sanitation at large homeless encampments

a sign on a portable toilet asks users not to use drugs inside
A sign on some portable toilets at an unofficial campground at a vacant lot along Anchorage’s Third Avenue, pictured here on June 27, 2023, asks its users not to use drugs inside. The city set up the portable toilets, hand sanitizing stations and some dumpsters here to reduce the campers’ impacts. (Jeremy Hsieh/Alaska Public Media)

Residents of Anchorage’s large homeless encampments can expect a temporary boost in police presence, outreach services and basic sanitation.

On Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly committed an extra $220,000 to temporarily improve public safety and public health in camps occupied by hundreds of people without homes. 

Assembly Chair Chris Constant said the goal for police is to restore order through mid-October, when the city’s emergency shelter plan for the winter is expected to go into effect.  

“It’s a disorderly environment and it’s outside of what any reasonable person would call a legitimate community space,” he said. “At this time, we would prefer order on the balance of scales to chaos.”

Several officials and community members at the meeting decried crime, drug use, predatory behavior and uncleanliness in the camps, especially downtown near Third Avenue and Ingra Street. 

Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness Executive Director Meg Zaletel said her staff don’t feel safe going into that one, and they set up their services just outside. 

“So we actually welcome the police presence and want to coordinate so there are open lines of communication,” she said. “So that if there are homelessness-related issues, we can respond to those and police can be doing what police do best.” 

Zaletel, who is also the vice chair of the Assembly, recuses herself from her Assembly role on homelessness issues. 

Assembly member Felix Rivera put together the measure for extra funding. He said complaints have been coming for weeks and weeks.

“The folks who live and work near the camps, and the folks who live within the camps themselves want things to be better,” he said. 

He said the extra funding is a shot in the arm for the city departments that work in the camps. 

The Assembly is expected to take its final vote on a funding plan for emergency winter shelter at its meeting next Tuesday.

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.

Previous articlePresbyterian Church leaders visit Juneau to plan apology for 1962 church closure
Next articleAlaska News Nightly: Tuesday, September 5, 2023