ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Stop by Bean’s Cafe and the Brother Francis Shelter on 3rd Avenue – the downtown capitol of Anchorage homelessness – and you’ll notice two unusual changes.
First, several police officers are spending hours a day outside the soup kitchen. Joined by a social worker, they are part of the department’s community policing team and are enforcing drinking and drug bans on the campus. Second, the homeless camps that surrounded the shelter are gone, for now.
Beginning on Tuesday, the city launched a two-week “assessment” program meant to increase safety at the shelter and soup kitchen, said Nancy Burke, city homeless and housing coordinator.
“It’s really been a tremendous success,” Burke said. “We’re four days (in) and we’re just assessing what needs to happen but already we’re seeing improvements. We’re seeing insights as to what needs to be improved in our opportunities down there.”
People who violate the rules may be banned for up to six months from the area. While the camp sites directly adjacent to Bean’s and Brother Francis were gone Friday, some campers haven’t moved far.
“All they’ve managed to do by implementing a police presence is they’ve driven the problem individuals west toward the residential district,” said Robert Cupples, who manages a family property at 3rd Avenue and Hyder Street. “The exact same camps. I’ve got a camp 100 feet that way, that’s just popped up.”
Burke said the program is not to be considered a silver bullet for homeless camps, but a way to gather more information about methods for reducing 911 calls to the shelter and soup kitchen, and to identify people who want and need help finding housing.
As for the notion that the campers will just move to nearby neighborhoods? “That might be a concern for the community that if we disperse people from the campus that they are going to go other places,” Burke said. “But we’re following along with outreach services to those individuals as well.”
John Smart, 55, says he has been homeless or in prison since 1981. He counted six officers and three patrol cars at Bean's on Thursday.
The more the merrier, he said. "For me anyway, I feel safer.”