A letter signed by mostly Democrat legislators takes Mayor Berkowitz, a fellow Democrat, to task for allowing criminals to run amuck in Anchorage.
Spearheaded by Rep. Zack Fields of downtown District 20 and formerly employed by the Alaska Democratic Party, the letter is addressed to both the mayor and Chief of Police Justin Doll. Taking a hard line against vagrancy and drug-addled criminals, it could have just as easily been written by Rep. David Eastman of Wasilla, a hard-right Republican.
“We are writing to urge the Municipality of Anchorage to use its full legal authority to clean up the city’s parks. Each year, the number and size of encampments with semi-permanent structures, fires, chop shops, and drug paraphernalia continue to grow. These encampments pose an existential threat to our community’s economic future. Based on our understanding of the options available, we feel the city has not used its full authority to clear camps by removing structures and other materials.
“Squatters/campers possess few legal rights that allow them to establish or maintain encampments on public land. The 9th Circuit has established the most restrictive case law related to municipal authority to address squatters/camp holds that local governments may not prohibit sleeping in all public spaces if there is no indoor shelter space for indigent individuals (Martin v. Boise). The Municipality of Anchorage has ample space for individuals to sleep outside, including thousands of square acres in Chugach State Park. Martin v. Boise does not preclude localities from removing structures or otherwise abating waste left by drug addicts, thieves, and other squatters/campers. So long as Anchorage has some place individuals can sleep outside, case law does not limit removal of waste from the park system.
“It is important for all of us to recognize the distinction between truly homeless people and the criminals who have exploited weaknesses in enforcement to establish camps in the park system. For those setting up camps to do drugs or create places for partying, we must address the problem with a different approach. We know that criminal activity and encampments established by drug addicts will not be solved or addressed at all by expansion of housing. While ‘housing first’ is part of the solution to homelessness, it will not fix the problem of illegal encampments. To the contrary, failing to enforce prohibitions on encampments sends criminals a message that they can squat, build structures, and engage in criminal activity with impunity.”
The letter goes on to say that lawmakers in Juneau are hearing from constituents that they don’t feel safe in the parks or on the trails, and ends with a request that the city start clearing the encampments and dispose of the waste immediately.
It is signed by Reps. Zack Fields, Geran Tarr, Chris Tuck, Harriet Drummond, Matt Clamon, Sara Rasmussen, and Sens. Tom Begich, Bill Wielechowski, and Elvi Gray-Jackson.
Fields illustrated his frustration on Facebook with a page from the Monday edition of the Anchorage Daily News, with stories about shootings on or near Chester Creek Trail.
Not all agree that clearing the camps is a good idea. The ACLU of Alaska sent a letter to Mayor Berkowitz in 2016, asking his administration to cease evicting people from homeless camps while Anchorage’s shelters are full.
“We recognize that solutions to homelessness take time but are concerned about the constitutionality of evicting people who do not have anywhere else to go,” the ACLU wrote.