‘It’s a good win,’ outgoing Anchorage mayor says of Supreme Court homelessness ruling

a man with a backpack walks through a field with tents in it
A man walks through an encampment in Anchorage’s South Addition neighborhood on June 28, 2024. Julie Greene-Graham, affiliated with the nearby Central Lutheran Church, said the campers and church are trying to be good neighbors to each other. (Jeremy Hsieh/Alaska Public Media)

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a precedent Friday that protected homeless people from punishment for camping in public spaces when they have nowhere else to go. 

Outgoing Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson said the old precedent set in 2018 hamstrung the city’s ability to manage its homeless population. His administration’s legal department formally backed the winning side last year

Friday, Bronson celebrated the decision. 

“It’s a good win,” he said. “It’s going to give future administrations throughout the West Coast, throughout the Ninth Circuit, latitude to – because we’ve been very restricted, and it’s been very onerous on us in our ability to control behavior in our city.”

He said he doesn’t intend to do anything with the new powers in his final days of his term. Suzanne LaFrance takes over as mayor on Monday. 

“It’s a tool related to where people can sleep, but it’s not a solution to the fact that so many people are sleeping outside,” LaFrance said in a statement. “We cannot and will not get distracted from focusing on solutions to unsheltered homelessness: housing, year-round shelter, and access to treatment.”

She said she’s committed to acting on solutions. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, which has open lawsuits against the city over previously displaced campers, decried the high court’s decision

“Today’s ruling is a bleak and cruel decision that will allow cities to punish people who are just trying to survive while living unhoused,” said ACLU Legal Director Ruth Botstein. “Our unhoused neighbors deserve the dignity and respect that all Anchorage residents should expect. The ACLU of Alaska is committed to working with the municipality and partners to find pathways to improve the lives and protect the constitutional rights of Alaskans experiencing homelessness.” 

Jemar Alex is living out of a campsite along a major road in the South Addition neighborhood that popped up after campsites around the Chester Creek Trail were recently cleared. Alex said the court’s decision is a bad thing.  

“Give back and try to have housing. Approve stuff, you know?” he said. “So we don’t have to be out here. For real.”

Two women talk to a man in a field
Julie Greene-Graham, right, and Jenn Miller talk with people camping near Central Lutheran Church in Anchorage on June 28, 2024. Greene-Graham chairs a Central Lutheran-affiliated nonprofit called In Our Backyard, and Miller works on a United Methodist Church-affiliated project called Showered in Grace that makes a mobile shower unit available to the needy. (Jeremy Hsieh/Alaska Public Media)

Felix Rivera is the Anchorage Assembly’s lead on housing and homelessness policies. In a statement, he noted that as recently as April, the Assembly rejected a Bronson administration proposal to penalize illegal camping. Rivera said it’s never been the city’s policy to “actively prosecute” people without homes for camping. 

The Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness called the decision disappointing, but said it won’t change its work supporting people’s basic needs. 

“People need a place to rest, to sleep, to simply be,” the coalition said in a statement.

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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