3rd Ave. business owners say they're seeing a new element in homelessness

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Human suffering, crime and filth -- it seems to be converging on 3rd Avenue downtown. Now business owners want solutions, and they're low on patience.

Residents exchange items in a doorway on 3rd Ave.

The root of the problem is the ongoing homeless crisis, as the state and the city wrestle with too little money to go around to meet all needs. But locals say they are noticing a new trend that has nothing to do with need.

Tim Weeks owns a business in the area.

“The way it's being presented to the public right now, you know, it’s women, children, pregnant women, but I think if you come spend some time down here you're going to find it's middle-aged, teen-aged boys, and men that are running around living in these tents creating havoc down here,” he said. “And that's a huge part of the problem down here. I think our resources are going to the wrong people.”

His wife, Kim Weeks, agrees.

"The residents in this area are suffering break-ins, property damage, threatened physically, causes fear,” she said, “I was told by the police that there's just not enough police force to protect us. "

Director Lisa Sauder of Bean’s Cafe, which sits in the heart of 3rd Ave., says she has noticed the new element as well.

"We are seeing a different element of people who are in the area but are not clients and are not engaged with us in services, and they aren't interested, frankly, in being engaged with us," she said.

But police say that despite what locals see -- or think they are seeing -- they can’t just arrest people on a call.

“We can't just walk up to someone because we believe they fit a certain profile and detain them and accuse them of being a drug dealer,” said Anchorage Police Lieutenant Jack Carson.

Rob Cupples is another fed up business owner who thinks that police are being disingenuous in their explanations.

“Why is it that these illegal activities that would not be tolerated on any other street in the city seem to be tolerated here and they've turned a blind eye?” he said.

But police say that they are in no way turning a blind eye; instead they are enforcing each neighborhood by the same standards.

“The Anchorage Police Department has not received any directive in any way to enforce any differently with the homeless community. We enforce all crime equally regardless of whether you are homeless or not homeless,” said Lt. Jack Carson.

But business owners in the area say that they simply don’t believe this. While APD says that they respond to 100 percent of calls, Kim Weeks says that her calls are often not answered, something that the troublemakers have learned to take advantage of.

"They say to me ‘oh let me guess, they told you they will be here as soon as they can get here, we'll be here in about an hour.’ And then they say ‘they're not coming, they're not going to show up.’ They know what they are talking about. They have the system down," says Kim Weeks.

But police say that even with more arrests, the underlying problems of homelessness wouldn’t be solved. You can’t arrest your way out of homelessness, they say.

Meanwhile, policymakers continue to struggle to come up with a comprehensive plan -- with public support -- to solve this complex and important issue.

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