New laws set in place could slow down homeless camp cleanup

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - It's been a contentious process for years — clearing the illegal settlements while not destroying the few possessions the homeless have.

"People around here that are homeless, are very very tired of their tents being picked up," said a man who goes by 'Rabt', "Where they're at, if they don't pick it up, a $500 tent plus belongings go in the trash. Meds, whatever, gone. And they have to start all over."

The city is putting the campers on notice, as we head into the summer season, to gather their belongings and move out of public green spaces. It has appropriated an additional $150,000 to help speed up the cleanup process, but with an added challenge of providing shelter opportunities.

"We have to be pretty orderly and structured about how we do our abatements, and so the municipality, the parks department, and the police department are working area by area to do the proper postings to ensure that we don't violate the rights of the campers," said Assemblyman, Christopher Constant. "But at the same time, to begin the process of cleaning up and ensuring we aren't creating more public health hazards in the process of trying to ensure the public safety."

Restrictions set by the Ninth Circuit of Appeals say homeless people residing in states within the district cannot be prosecuted for sleeping outside if shelter access is lacking.

The city is also working with a new way to clean up these sites, allowing zones to be created in which signs are posted on all sides, notifying campers that the site is set to be cleaned up, and they have ten days to gather their belongings and leave.

"It allows us to go in and not play whack-a-mole in a certain area, but instead, get all of the waste, and all of the piles, and tons and tons of trash out of our green spaces and into our landfill," said Constant. "It also helps us to identify the individuals in the camp areas, so we can help get them into services and get them kind of moving on a different path."

There's a backlog of sites that need cleanup, and the city is working with local shelters to identify how many beds are available at a given time to know if they're exceeding capacity. This way, it gives them a sense of how much abatement they can do at any given time. The city is also working on an online map that will show which camps have been reported, cleaned, and are scheduled for cleanup.

If you'd like to report a homeless camp in your area, you can do so on the city's website, here.

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