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Homelessness and housing: What 6 Anchorage mayoral candidates would do to end homeless camps

(KTUU)
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Published: Feb. 17, 2021 at 4:07 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In the woods and under bridges, homeless camps and the people who live outside has been an issue that has frustrated, saddened and angered people in Anchorage for several years.

Homelessness and the issues that surround it, including affordable housing, were the focus of a mayoral discussion Tuesday night. It was hosted by the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, the Anchorage Home Builders Association, the Rasmuson Foundation, Northrim Bank and the Anchorage Daily News.

Candidates included Mike Robbins, Bill Evans, Forrest Dunbar, Dave Bronson, George Martinez and Bill Falsey.

In 2019, Anchorage saw about 7,900 incidences of homelessness, according to the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness. That number, and shelter use, increased during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tom Hewitt, an opinions editor at ADN, asked each of the candidates what steps they would take to address unsheltered homelessness, which includes people who live outside.

In a lightning round of questions about where homeless services should be located, Falsey, Dunbar and Martinez agreed services should not be concentrated in one neighborhood. Robbins signaled homeless services should be strategically concentrated. Bronson and Evans signal there are negative consequences concentrating homeless services, but they aren’t comfortable putting homeless services throughout the community.

Falsey worked under former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz as the municipal manager. In that role, he helped run the city’s response to the 2018 earthquake and to the coronavirus pandemic. He said he’s been frustrated with the municipality’s progress on homelessness so far.

“The assembly and the administration have not been willing to prioritize funding a way to store individuals’ private property at a well-functioning shelter site. If we did then the conversation would newly be, ‘you can’t be here I’m going to give you an hour to collect your stuff and leave and if not, I’ll take you and your stuff to any legal place you can go, or otherwise, I’m taking you to the shelter where you can stay in a warm safe place for the night and be connected to services to help you back on your feet.’”

Currently, the city must wait 10 days after posting abatement notices before moving someone’s property. The municipality is required to provide notice to the residents of the camps before it dismantles and eliminates their property.

Assembly member Dunbar, who previously ran, and lost, as a Democrat against Republican Congressman Don Young, told the audience that addressing homelessness has long been a priority of his.

“We have to find a way to connect people to those resources. We need to invest in transitional housing, in affordable housing, in that whole spectrum of housing,” Dunbar said. “We are investing in camp abatement as well but that’s only constitutional, it’s only humane, it’s only really doable if you have somewhere for them to go. Otherwise, you’re just squeezing air in a balloon. We have to have a real solution”

Bronson, a former U.S. Air Force and commercial pilot, is rallying a conservative base frustrated with coronavirus mandates that have impacted businesses in Anchorage. He says some of those closures impacted people’s income and their ability to pay rent. He also said drug and alcohol abuse, lack of affordable housing, as well as mental health issues, were big causes leading to homelessness.

“We have to get them to what is called ‘The Decision Point’ they have got to get to the point where they decide whether they’re going to rehabilitate and detox in a jail cell, as terrible as that is, or they’re going to detox in an effective, improvable treatment program like Catholic Social Services, Salvation Army. Until we are willing to get to that point we’re not going to fix this at the individual level,” Bronson said.

Robbins said he agreed with Bronson’s statement.

“It’s terrible to be homeless and it’s terrible to live unsheltered and be homeless,” Robbins said, “but the bottom line, as one of my counterparts already said, the reason people are homeless is drugs, alcohol, mental health, economic. We have to address underlying causes.”

Martinez was a Democratic U.S. congressional candidate in New York in 2012. His campaign website says his vision for Anchorage “is for a connected, safe and thriving city where our economy grows through innovation, inclusion, and education.”

Martinez is a program director for the Alaska Humanities Forum.

“You’re going to clean up one-third of what people see visibly if you also provide the opportunity for wrap-around daily-dignity jobs,” Martinez said, “You’re going to give other people an opportunity to find those pathways of dignity respect and independence.”

Evans is also a former Anchorage Assembly member and attorney.

“We have to make sure that unsheltered homelessness is not an option. Once we have enough shelter space for each homeless person we have to take back our street corners. We have to take back our trails. There are steps we can take to end the visible problem of homelessness that most people identify with the problem. The things that bring our city down. The thing that makes investment in Anchorage unlikely. We can take steps to do that, that are realistic, they’re legal,” Evans said.

Similar to Falsey, Evan’s website lists a “storage facility for property” as a way to find a solution to messes left behind by homeless camps. His website lists six goals to help the homeless population including “vigorously enforcing restrictions on street side giving to panhandlers.”

The path to the mayor’s office is not easy. Each candidate must win more than 45% of the votes on April 6. If no candidate wins enough votes, then the two with the most votes advance to a run-off on May 11.

The last day to register to vote in the Anchorage regular municipal election is March 7. Ballots are mailed out starting March 15.

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