The homeless living in the woods and others who have parked themselves on cots at the Sullivan Arena for over two years have been moved to a campground inside city limits, where they are being given free space for their tents, where there are dumpsters, showers, and a full-time security guard. There is a food truck from Bean’s Cafe parked at the campground, handing out sandwiches. The administration of Mayor Dave Bronson has waived all camping fees, providing a 14-day fee-free site to all who need a place to camp. About 62 camping spots are now taken, with room for up to 6 persons in some of the camping spots.
The leftist members of the Assembly and the mainstream media are incensed with the temporary solution. The Assembly leftist majority wants homeless people housed at the Golden Lion Hotel property at 36th Ave. and New Seward Highway, a building the Assembly purchased before Bronson became mayor. That would cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars to give people free hotel rooms. The other problem with that site is that it’s nearly next door to a Jewish daycare center and education campus, and many who are homeless have drug, alcohol, and mental health problems.
“I think we just respect the campers who choose to do permanent camping,” said Assemblywoman Jamie Allard, acknowledging that many homeless want to live out of doors, rather than inside a shelter. “The city cannot keep the homeless in the Sullivan Arena after July 1 and is already on the hook for nearly $80 million that FEMA probably won’t reimburse for. That was not supposed to be a shelter; it was a non-congregate pandemic facility during Covid.”
It became a shelter after former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz hijacked the arena nearly two and a half years ago, and then acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson took no action to clear the arena.
Allard noted that people living in the campground are taking more pride in their areas, and that the dumpsters are helping to keep the place more tidy than what happens out in the woods, where campers end up living in piles of filth and use makeshift honey buckets or just defecating where they can, leaving it all behind when they move on.
The Anchorage Daily News has focused on the bear problem at the Centennial Campground. Some campers are keeping food inside their tents and it’s apparent that bears will be a challenge. Some will probably have to be killed if they get too aggressive.
Assemblyman Forrest Dunbar is not happy with the campground in his district and said in committee and work sessions that the only reason the mayor chose it is because Dunbar ran against him during last year’s mayoral election. He believes it’s political retribution. Dunbar, who was just reelected in May, is abruptly running for the Alaska Senate, and seems worried the campground will be used against him in campaigning.
But Allard says camping in the summer in Alaska is actually pretty normal. “As a person who was in the military, I camped at the Black Spruce campground on JBER for a while, until my military quarters were ready. People were allowed to camp for up to four months.”
The campground solution is the result of the Anchorage Assembly leftist majority purposefully not working with the mayor to provide a navigation center that would help homeless people get the social services and referrals they need. Since Bronson took office last July 1, it’s been a year of negotiations with the Assembly, which essentially blocked Bronson’s every attempt to provide a path forward that would be sustainable and return the Sullivan Arena to its intended functions. Talks broke down earlier this month after the mediators said the two sides would never agree.
Then came the dry season. Anchorage has been in a drought this summer, and fires near Dowling and Elmore were started in homeless encampments, similar to ones that dot the woods throughout the city. That fire expanded quickly before it was doused with the help of state resources. For the Bronson Administration, this is now a matter of public safety and he has had police start moving people out of the woods and into the campground for their safety, and the safety of others. No fires are allowed in the Centennial Campground.
Many political observers point out that the the Sullivan Arena and the navigation center is a proxy fight between grassroots Democrats and Republicans. Republicans have gained ground in Anchorage elected seats, winning the mayor’s seat and adding a conservative to the Assembly from South Anchorage.