Anchorage may give homeless more time to move

Posted: Thursday, May 27, 2010

ANCHORAGE - The city of Anchorage may give the homeless five or 10 days to clear their camps out of parks and greenbelts instead of 12 hours.

The Anchorage Assembly took testimony Tuesday night on a possible revision to the 12-hour notification policy that has landed the city in superior court. An ACLU lawsuit says the ordinance approved last summer violates the property rights of the homeless.

The proposed ordinance also would require the city health department to offer the homeless housing or other help.

The assembly will continue working on the homeless camp issue at its June 8 meeting.

The Anchorage Daily News reports some residents say police aren't aggressive enough. Some say police abandoned Centennial Park and don't respond to calls seeking help to clear out illegal camps from the woods.

"People try walking through the park and they run into these people," said Kevin Smestad, Northeast Community Council president. "Because they are inebriated, some of them have been very hostile to the people walking by."

A homeless man was killed last year in Centennial Park.

One recent Saturday community cleanup, Smestad said, he and another volunteer encountered two men in the park woods sitting on an old couch. The council members had hoped to haul it out. Beer cans and a liquor bottle were strewn about. While they were there, one man urinated behind the couch, and they couldn't move it.

Lt. Gary Gilliam said police haven't abandoned the park to the homeless, but it's not their highest priority. Illegal homeless camps are considered a public nuisance, but living in one doesn't amount to a crime.

Police say they have started following procedures in the proposed new version of the camping law - allowing more notice and a chance to appeal.

"We never got around to it in less than four days anyway," said Lt. Dave Parker.

Police also have been given a form to assess the needs of the homeless people they encounter, said Darrel Hess, the city's homeless coordinator. And Hess said he alerts social service agencies after police post a camp for closure.

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