ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — It's an ongoing issue in the city of Anchorage: homeless people camping out in public property, and the spillover impacts their presence has on adjacent communities.
One transient camp just behind the Central Lutheran Church on Cordova Street between 13th and 15th Avenues downtown has reportedly been there for months. Trespassing, theft, public defecation are just a few of the problems noted by a resident living in the area.
A sign at Central Lutheran Church says all are welcome, but a security camera and locking system on the front door suggest there's a problem.
The church is just a few hundred feet away from a transient camp located on municipal property that people in the neighborhood say has been effecting the area since May.
Edward Sale, who lives near the church, says frustration in the area has been growing.
"I see people urinating and defecating behind those trees every day,” Sale said. “I have been threatened by the group right over there. And that's just walking by them."
He says homeless people trespass on his property every single day to get water and electricity, and that over the weekend, someone stole an expensive sculpture from one of his neighbors.
"We understand the concern in our community. We don't go and trespass in their space, but they're coming on our property daily," he said.
Antonio Anderson says he was hired by Weidner Investments, which owns the vacant lot on the north side of the church, to provide security to keep transients off of Weidner property.
"You have about 20 some personnel over here. You've got at least 10 to 12 tents, and a whole bunch of sleeping bags all over the place,” Anderson said. “Trash, waste, everything all over. It's really bad."
Anderson's job is to keep transients off private property, but he says there's nothing he can do about those living on municipal property.
"We can get them off this property and off that property, but they can work in the easement area, which is in between,” Anderson said.
Gene Smallwood Jr., a man living near the church, says he's been utilizing services provided by the Central Lutheran Church for years, and that his mom and wife like being near the church.
“What we say is we feel safe because it's a symbol of God," he said.
Smallwood says he's been living outdoors since he was 11, and as an Alaska Native, he takes issue with people labeling him as homeless.
"I don't see why they're going to call me homeless. I'm on my homeland," he said.
Anderson said it will take months to evict people in the area, but most people in the camp have thus far been cooperative.
Pastor Jeff Hackler from Central Lutheran Church says he submitted a request to the city to evacuate the transient camp last week. He says the church still welcomes people off the streets who "respect the church and are not intoxicated."