Berkowitz officially declares civil emergency in wake of 'unprecedented' crisis

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz announces a declaration of Civil Emergency on Wednesday...
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz announces a declaration of Civil Emergency on Wednesday afternoon. (KTUU)
Published: Jul. 24, 2019 at 3:00 PM AKDT
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The Municipality of Anchorage has announced an emergency declaration - the second in the city’s history - in response to what MOA officials have called an “unprecedented housing, public health and safety crisis in the wake of state budget cuts.”

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, Assembly Chair Felix Rivera, and Anchorage Assembly Homeless Committee co-chairs Meg Zaletel and Kameron Perez-Verdia were at the public meeting discussing the next steps in addressing the crisis.

“Often times when we deal with emergencies, we deal with things we don’t see coming,” Berkowitz said. “The crisis upon us is something we can see coming our way.”

A week from today, Brother Francis shelter will close for four days and reopen at reduced capacity. Due to that and other circumstances, Berkowitz said he expects that 800 or more people from the Anchorage community will lose their housing in the near future.

“The consequence of those individuals landing on the street is different from the population currently on the street,” Berkowitz said. “There will be unprecedented demand on first responders on the street as well as things occurring in hospitals.”

Berkowitz said that with each day, there is something new out of Juneau, but that the delay in funding has caused more of a problem than anything else. There is no way, he said, that private funding can backfill what legislators have “cut out in one fell swoop.”

“The governor has repeatedly said we are on our own,” Berkowitz said. “It is a morally indefensible thing - and that is not the Alaskan way. However, being told we have to take care of ourselves, that’s exactly what we are going to do.

“We hope Juneau figures it out one day, but they’ve told us we are on our own,” he said, “so we are going to take every measure to protect every person in this city.”

As the week goes on, the Anchorage Assembly will be gathering input from the public about possible solutions to the ongoing crisis.

“This is a time to be creative and resilient,” Perez-Verdia said. “But between now and Friday, we need to hear the public’s thoughts.”

Rivera added his own sentiments, echoing Berkowitz’s push for the community coming together as one in order to tackle the life-threatening issues at hand.

“This isn’t just something the city takes responsibility for,” Rivera said, “it’s something everyone in Anchorage must take responsibility for.”

Rivera said a special meeting of the Anchorage Assembly will be held Friday to determine if the emergency order needs to be extended.

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