News from Patrick Flynn

Homeless migration

As a kid growing up in Anchorage, one of the first sights from the train as it headed north out of town along Ship Creek was a large homeless camp at the base of the bluff near the old Alaska Native Medical Center.  Today ANMC is located on Tudor Road near Campbell Creek and that homeless camp location is an RV park – still transient housing, just more expensive.

Then as now, homeless camps tended to cluster near needed services and, since Native Alaskans represent a significant segment of Anchorage’s homeless population, it should not surprise anyone that camps are migrating to areas closer to the new ANMC.  Homelessness, and particularly the chronic inebriates that are the most visible components of this tragedy, is a subject that cries out for our attention and compassion.  While it may be tempting to dismiss the homeless as “street drunks” or some other pejorative term we need to remember they are people whose misfortunes, given slightly different circumstances, could just as easily be our own.  I am told that, due to the many homeless families in Anchorage, the average age of a homeless person is nine years old.  Thus was my mindset when I read a commentary by Karl Hulse and a response by Mike Abbott, Anchorage’s City Manager, in the local paper.

My reaction was two-fold.  First, while I’m saddened that Mr. Hulse and his family are negatively affected by their homeless neighbors, it’s about time that the entire community understands that this an issue we all need to address, not just those of us who live in northwest Anchorage.  And second, with all due respect, Mr. Hulse doesn’t understand the depth of this issue – more policing won’t solve the problem, only housing and substance abuse treatment can make a real difference.  Mr. Abbott addresses part, but not all, of the solution.

To understand why a more robust police presence wouldn’t address the root cause of Mr. Hulse’s complaint one needs to understand how the problem arrived in his neighborhood.  He cites the Anchorage Rescue Mission, Campbell Creek salmon and the greenbelt as contributing factors, but that’s only part of the story.  Historically the homeless have clustered in the Downtown and Fairview neighborhoods because they had access to Bean’s Cafe for food, the Brother Francis Shelter for shelter, the aforementioned ANMC for medical care and, for those with substance abuse problems, numerous locations to procure alcohol.  But things have changed.

In addition to the new location for ANMC, it’s a lot harder to find cheap liquor in northwest Anchorage.  Most of the package stores have closed and those that remain downtown are strictly regulated.  The local grocery store now keeps mouthwash, which has high alcohol content, locked behind a counter.  And, as Mr. Abbott notes, police patrols downtown have successfully encouraged the homeless to spend their time elsewhere.  So if you’re homeless and addicted to alcohol the reasonable decision is to move to an area where liquor and grocery stores haven’t learned these lessons, and to spend your time where it’s harder for police to find you.  Indeed, a recent liquor license application for a package store on West Dimond Boulevard induced some neighbors to register complaints about public inebriates along a nearby stretch of the Campbell Creek trail.  In short, Mr. Hulse’s solution – more cops – treats a symptom but not the underlying causes of homelessness.

So what is the solution?  Again, the two most important aspects are additional low-income housing units and vastly increased access to substance abuse treatment.  It’s worth noting that in 2002 then-Rep. Lisa Murkowski successfully championed legislation increasing alcohol taxes with the ostensible purpose of providing revenue to augment alcohol treatment programs in Alaska.  But those were the days of fiscal deficits and, since Alaska’s constitution includes a prohibition on dedicated funds, legislative budget writers instead used the increased alcohol tax revenues to fund other government services.  Worse yet, Governor Frank Murkowski later cut substance abuse treatment funding during his administration.  But what do we do about this?

Here’s my plan.  First, I’m going to continue donating my time and money to the United Way of Anchorage, which partners with a variety of non-profit and governmental agencies to help those in need.  Second, since I have the privilege of serving as the co-chair of the Assembly’s legislative committee, this fall I intend to develop a legislative program that goes beyond capital requests and addresses some policy issues, especially funding for low-income housing and substance abuse treatment.  Then I’ll head to Juneau to make the case for that funding and that’s where you, Mr. Hulse and all our neighbors come in – without broad public support for treating the root causes of homelessness future columns in the local paper will reflect the continued migration of homeless Alaskans to neighborhoods throughout Anchorage.


Patrick Flynn

This contribution was made on Saturday, 12. July 2008 at 11:47 and was published under the category Neighborhoods. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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  1. staggerigly complex issue and desperately in need of fixing. the forest fire flames coming within a stone’s throw of houses was a vivid demonstration.
    seems like it was a bad idea to close the clithroe center. the rehab organization homeward bound seems to do better than most at successfully ebabling people to break out of homelessness.
    on another subject — how will you be voting on ms selkregg’s proposed ordinance regarding public process for parks?

    Comment: clark – 15. July 2008 @ 10:21 am

  2. I believe alcoholism is at the root of the illegal camping issue in Anchorage. While addressing treatment needs is vital, the issue of the hard-core alcoholics congregating and damaging our public parks will not be solved as long as we continue to enable it.. If there is no consequence for illegal camping and the alcoholism that accompanies it, there is no incentive for the hard-care alcoholics to stop doing it even when treatment is an option.

    I have been following the problem very closely in my neighborhood, Rogers Park and the adjacent Chester Creek greenbelt (not near any of the service providers but convenient to liquor outlets), since 2001 and have observed and documented, first-hand, a wide-range of direct impacts. I have contacted and/or been involved with APD, AFD, Community Services, Parks and Recreation, ARRBRA, Community Councils and others. At best, the result is cleaning up the mountains of debris, more like housecleaning services for the illegal campers, making it nicer for them to return and start all over again. The great majority of the APD effort is, in my view, pointless, especially the posting of \”24 Hour Notice\” signs and warnings when APD has no intention of returning. The APD lead officer on this issue, Denny Allen, does not reply to me anymore. The fact that the illegal camps responsible for the recent fires are so close to APD HQ speaks volumes.

    It is pure luck that there have been no extensive fires in my area. When I come across smoke in the trees these days, I immediately call 911, as I did on June 16, requesting that APD also respond. The response was two AFD trucks and four APD cars. There were three illegal campers, camp and campfire. There were no consequences to the illegal campers. They were allowed to take their camp gear and leave.

    Comment: Wayne – 15. July 2008 @ 11:32 am

  3. So Mr. Flynn your idea is that I get to pay for this twice? Living by Campbell Creek Park I get to see the value of my home go down as the drunk, the stoned and homeless take over my front yard, my neighbor hood and the park. They break into my cars, and take things from my yard. We don’t even feel safe going to the park, the park by the way which my homeowners’ taxes pay for. Now you want to go to Juneau and take more of my money and buy those homes and pay for their rehab? NOPE! You will not get my vote for you or for that idea! Yes more police would help, it would keep the drunks from taking over the parks where kids and families are supposed to be able to go and enjoy and feel safe. It will keep the drug dealers and dopers out of the parks and away from young children. Yes moving the Rescue mission out of such neighborhoods will help hugely, as the homeless will move and congregate around another area.

    See I agree with you, it will move the issue and if you were a smart politician you would move it to an area where it could be controlled watched and regulated. Instead of allowing it to be spread all across the town and completely out of control, the best way to deal with an issue is to bring it to an area where it can be controlled and managed while protecting the public. How about if you put it in such a place where children didn’t live or play. Now you can actually police one area of town, and after awhile the undesirables will leave town or actually get a job once they found out we as a society are not going to enable their habits any more. Those who are truly on the street due to a job loss will find the helping hands they need. It is not my issue, so stop trying to make it my issue, it is not our issue, it is their issue, and they have to deal with it. If they truly want a job and want off the street they will get there especially if there is no where else to go. Keep giving them free things and money and they will sty drunk forever. Make them step up to the plate and they will step up or move along, maybe they will go to California where your ideals seem to come from.


    Comment: Brian – 08. July 2009 @ 10:01 pm

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