Anchorage works to provide shelter for homeless, but some won't go

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - As winter steadily approaches, the City of Anchorage is working to get people inside off the streets.

It's a city-wide effort by municipal mobile intervention teams, to connect the homeless to necessary services. But occasionally, people are happy just the way they are.

Living in an elaborate structure off of Tudor and Minnesota is a man who knows how to stay warm in the winter. He's chosen to go by the name of "Bobby" for the purposes of this story.

Channel 2 asked Bobby if he had spent a winter living outside in Alaska before. "Yeah, down there by the lagoon, I spent a winter down there,” he said. “But I built it to where there was an indoor fireplace and everything."

Bobby says he hasn't received any complaints from neighbors, living so openly in their back yards.

"They kind of like me because I keep it clean,” he said. “And they dropped off some food. And another one gave me $20.”

And so far, he says, no visits from the city.

"No, nobody. I know my zoning and I'm kind of like right underneath the power line,” Bobby said. “So really I'm a federal problem instead of a state problem."

Nancy Burke with municipality housing and homeless services says the city wants to give people like Bobby options to take shelter from the cold.

"The concept that we're using is a mobile intervention team,” Burke said. “It's people who are specifically trained in mental health services and approaches."

Mobile intervention teams consist of personnel from the Anchorage Police and Anchorage Fire Departments.

They visit homeless camps and people on the streets, and they connect them with specialists in mental health and social services. Those specialists refer people to non-profit treatment and housing programs in Anchorage.

"They're connecting with the non-profit sector to make sure we're using all the resources in the community as efficiently as we can," Burke said.

Burke said APD is currently out clearing camps in preparation for winter. When the weather gets cold, Burke said, people are more open to suggestion.

"People are motivated to come out of the cold more so in the winter than in the summer," she said.

Burke says she believes the system is working. A city-wide count shows fewer people in shelters and camps this year than last, but she doesn't know if that's directly correlated to the mobile intervention program.

She says there are vacancies at the overflow shelter at the Anchorage Safety Center for those seeking refuge from the cold.

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