Friday, June 24, 2011

Homeless Drunks Take Over Cuddy Park In Midtown After Being Rousted From Other Parts Of Anchorage

The new policy in Anchorage of rousting the homeless from their camps on a recurring basis is having a feared side effect -- the homeless are simply setting up camp in other parts of the city. KTVA Channel 11 reports that one of their new favorite haunts is the Cuddy Park located in Midtown. During the past six months, police have received 100 complaints from nearby residents.

The behavior of the homeless is reportedly obnoxious, including public drinking, fighting, and attempted rape. One woman was even observed stripping off her clothes to take a dip in the duck pond. Yet the Anchorage Police Department seems to be downplaying the problem, although their actual purpose is to get honest people to keep using the park so that the drunks don't claim "total ownership". Nevertheless, comments to the story indicate that APD's counsel backfired and made them appear as if they're sweeping the problem under the rug.

This is the not-unexpected outgrowth of a new policy in which the homeless are rousted on a regular basis so they won't get too comfortable and piss off a particular neighborhood for too long. After the Anchorage Assembly approved a new law on April 26th (AO 2011-52) giving illegal campers 15 days to clear out, or as little as three days if the city stores their tents, blankets and other property for them to collect later, police began posting warnings on illegal camps on May 23rd. What they leave behind can be thrown away, under the law. Over several days, more than 200 tents were tagged.

On June 10th, the first cleanout was launched at two sites popular among illegal campers; Reeve Boulevard and Commercial Drive, and Third Avenue and Ingra Street. Nearly all the campers were reportedly cooperative. The areas were littered with human feces, piles of toilet paper, empty liquor bottles and food containers

Not all of these people are actually "homeless". When the notices were first posted in May, the media caught up to a few of them. Most said they lived in the woods but a few had better accommodations and just came to party or socialize. Some had criminal records. At least one was a registered sex offender, according to the identity he provided. But they also talked about the regular lives and jobs they once had; one was a paralegal, and another an office manager. So if you cull out the "hobbyists" who just come to socialize, you will reduce the number of these people noticeably. This will make the problem more manageable.

In September 2009, the Alaska Justice Forum attempted to quantify the homeless problem in Alaska. They reported that Anchorage had 2,962 homeless people, nearly double the 2007 total. Demographic surveys also showed a disproportionately high percentage of Alaska Natives who were homeless; a HUD survey showed that of sheltered persons in families, 29 percent were American Indian or Alaska Native; and of individuals in shelters, 42 percent. While only 9 percent were chronically homeless, over 13 percent had chronic substance abuse issues, approximately 5 percent were victims of domestic violence, close to 7 percent were veterans, and about 9 percent were severely mentally ill.

One suggestion posted as a comment to KTVA is to create a single centralized camp for these people to assemble and socialize as they wish, away from law-abiding people, families and children. That would be a workable stopgap measure if it is conceived smartly and controlled correctly. But it is not a long-term solution. There are too many other factors contributing to the problem to be discussed here. Even advocates for the homeless like ADN reporter Julia O'Malley are reaching the limits of their patience.

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