A note from Mel: This is to introduce a guest post from my friend Marcia Barnes, who contacted me earlier tonight in reaction to a report in the Anchorage Daily News about the eviction of a homeless camp on Veteran’s Ridge in the Mountain View neighborhood of Anchorage. [Ref #1] She had actually written something about it, but didn’t know what to do with it. I’d already offered to publish on my blog a guest post from another friend — it didn’t take any thought at all for me to offer that to Marcia as well, especially because this is also an issue that I’m concerned about, but I haven’t the energy to write much about it now. So I’m very happy to have Marcia’s thoughts, & that she was willing to present them here.
I work, as I’ve mentioned before, at the Justice Center at University of Alaska Anchorage, where among other things I’m responsible for the layout of our quarterly research publication the Alaska Justice Forum. Our most recent issue, published just a couple of weeks ago, includes an detailed look at homelessness in Alaska and in Anchorage. [Ref #2] Who are the homeless? where are they found? how many are there? what are their circumstances? Take a look at that article to gain some context for what we’re really facing with homelessness in Anchorage, & ask yourself: are we handling it the best way possible? See also the website of the Anchorage Coalition on Homelessness. [Ref #3] — Mel
Anchorage & homelessness
by Marcia Barnes
I am trying to decide how to respond to the article in the Anchorage Daily News yesterday regarding the clearing out of the homeless camp in Mountain View. [Ref #1] I understand people’s concerns regarding the presence of the camp and possible problems. However, I wonder at the humanity of the way it has been handled. People with no place to go are routed and their possessions confiscated. If they are fortunate they have various family, friends or acquaintances with whom they may stay. However if not, they are still out on the streets and it is getting closer to winter, most of their winter gear is gone and they have to start scrounging all over again, perhaps stealing or more panhandling to get enough money for gear at the Salvation Army or Bishops Attic. Several people there were working but because of past problems, messing up ASHA or being disqualified because of a felony or simply not earning enough to be able to pay the amount of money it costs to get into an apartment, they are homeless. Though some are working, with no place to stay they might actually lose the jobs they do have.
It does not look like the city has offered many options for help to this group of really desperate people. Supposedly things are in the works so that when it happens again there will be social services available with recommendations of places to go for help. Perhaps the Mayor’s Homelessness Task Force is working on it, but that does not help those people currently routed from some kind of stability, it does not provide the Housing First option that is working in some other states and cities; it, in fact does nothing but cause the problem to move to another location, or back to the present one in a few weeks. Did the “clean up” of the camp accomplish making the area safer for the school and the neighborhood? I don’t know, perhaps it might have. Perhaps it did not. The reality is that Anchorage will continue to see deaths of homeless people that could have been avoided with better preparation and support. It is a difficult situation, but if we are to deal with it with hope for any positive resolution, a plan needs to be in place to work with people prior to shoving them out of the camps.
There may be money available through the Mental Health Trust Authority for start up to help those who need it and qualify as stakeholders. Money might also be available through Behavioral Health to help those dealing with mental illness or substance abuse. I believe funding should be sought from Native Corporations, as there are a large number of homeless Alaska Native people and culturally appropriate interventions could help tremendously. There might be funding available through Alaska Housing for specialized housing and there might be funds available through a consortium of private or church charities. I assume the Task Force will deal with some of these organizations and attempt to develop some kind of program for those the city is moving.
Expecting any real benefit from routing out a group of people from one area only to watch them move to another because the problem of housing is still not solved is futile. It allows the news to have something to do, the police have something to do, and those living at the homeless camps can become more and more desperate. A small band-aid over a severed artery is not much help. The city needs to develop a humane and effective program to assist homeless people into appropriate housing with supports that help them maintain that housing. Then, rousting a camp could make sense or not be needed.
- 10/19/09. “Mountain View homeless camp cleared out: Citations issued as squatters have 20 minutes to gather belongings” by Lisa Demer (Anchorage Daily News).
- “A Look at Homelessness in Alaska” by Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. Alaska Justice Forum 26(2): 2–5 (Summer 2009).
- Anchorage Coalition on Homelessness (website).