Residents raise concerns of homeless camp at emergency meeting held at Centennial Park

Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 8:17 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The City of Anchorage has abruptly turned Centennial Park Campground into a homeless camp,

With little notice that the office of Mayor Dave Bronson has decided to use the East Anchorage park for authorized use for homeless individuals this summer, community leaders are now venting frustrations and putting out the call to take action.

George Martinez, president of the Northeast Community Council, called a meeting for council members and local residents of the area Monday night. He had previously said that the council received no notice about the city’s new, temporary plans for Centennial Park campground.

“It’s disheartening that the community council was not connected with and worked with, considering all the years of the strong relationship between members of our community council working on hard issues like this,” Martinez said.

A campground at Centennial Park will be closed to the public and converted into a temporary homeless camp through the end of July, according to signs posted at the campground entrance late last week. The Centennial Park campground contains 84 sites which could hold at least two tents on each site.

A spokesperson with the municipality stated this spot was chosen not only due to the space it provides, but because it has bathrooms and security on site. The plan to start a homeless camp was announced one day after a wildfire blazed through around 13 acres of forest in East Anchorage.

The municipality also told Alaska’s News Source that the Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department has been keeping a close eye on fire danger and other safety risks of camps.

Martinez says it is not enough.

“This is not a strategy. This is an emergency response, aka something that is not well thought out. We hope we can be part of the solution, but we definitely do not want to be left out and blindsided,” Martinez said.

Members of the community showed up by the dozens Monday evening at Pena Sports Fields to voice their concerns over what they say was a rash decision made by the municipality. Concerns ranged from the risk of fires to worries about permanent solutions for helping the at-risk.

The Community Council also invited representatives from Mayor Bronson’s office to attend the meeting. Alexis Johnson, Bronson’s chief of staff, spoke on the mayor’s decision to turn the East Anchorage park into a homeless camp.

“The answer is if people want to camp, we need to allow them to camp legally and safely, and right now, we’re at risk of our city burning down,” Johnson told the assembled audience.

While the seemingly abrupt decision was in part made after last Thursday’s wildfire, residents say they were caught off guard, and they feel the plan is not a solution, whether for the short or long term.

Northeast Community Council members say they want the issue addressed as a community and say the Municipality of Anchorage needs to find permanent, viable solutions for the homeless.

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