The Anchorage Assembly unanimously voted to allocate $220,000 to address public health and safety concerns related to homeless encampments in various areas of the city, including North Anchorage and Midtown. The funds will be used for initiatives such as increasing police presence, improving lighting, cleaning up sites, and implementing health safety measures like providing water, portable toilets, and hand-washing stations. It may also aid in transitioning individuals from encampments to shelters. The money will be allocated to the municipal police, health, and parks departments and is expected to cover the remaining 40 days until the city’s winter shelter operations begin on October 15.
One particular focus of police efforts will be the Third Avenue encampment at Ingra and Gambell streets in North Anchorage. Concerns have been raised about crime in the area, including gun violence, assaults, theft, and drug dealing. Assembly members expressed the need to restore law and order and address the criminal element in the encampment. The city will also address public health issues, such as restroom and hand-washing facilities, at the extensive Midtown encampment in the Cuddy Park area.
Initially, the proposed measure allocated $100,000 for the mitigation efforts. However, an additional $120,000 was approved to address staffing issues mentioned by the police and parks and recreation department leaders. While sustaining 24/7 police presence in the camps is not feasible, a dedicated team for 40 hours per week will be established in the short term. This approach is expected to be more effective than individual officers working overtime shifts. The police department is also considering adding a detective as a point of contact for cases.
The Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness has expressed support for the increased police presence at the Third Avenue encampment. This support is unusual, as outreach efforts typically aim to build trust with individuals experiencing homelessness, and law enforcement presence can hinder this process for individuals who have experienced trauma. The coalition’s outreach team has found it unsafe to enter the Third Avenue encampment due to factors beyond their control. They are considering bringing in additional resources, such as crisis counselors, to strike a balance in their approach.
At the next Assembly meeting on September 12, further action will be taken regarding mitigation efforts and the city’s emergency winter homeless shelter plans.