New law targets Anchorage homeless camps

Posted: Thursday, July 09, 2009

ANCHORAGE - The Anchorage Assembly has approved a crackdown on homeless camps.

A law approved Tuesday night makes it illegal to camp on public lands and gives police the authority to start breaking up such camps 12 hours after posting notices on tents or shelters.

People who remain in the camps when police return would be given 20 minutes to gather their belongings and leave.

"It validates what we've been doing for quite some time," said Lt. Dave Parker, spokesman for the Anchorage Police Department. He said police have generally been giving people 24 hours notice.

City officials say the illegal campsites are a magnet for crime, noise and litter, and attract moose and bears.

Parker, noting the dozens of wildfires in Alaska this week, said the biggest threat to public safety is from unlawful burning. A 10-acre fire ignited by a homeless person burned near the police station last summer.

Parker could not estimate the number of homeless camps in Anchorage but said seven homeless people have been found dead in the woods and trails near town since January.

Though the law passed without objection, the Anchorage Daily News reported that some Assembly members and people who attended a public hearing were worried that the restrictions could harm homeless people who don't cause problems but are unable to find space at shelters set up by the city or churches.

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