News from Patrick Flynn

On the corner, again

Let’s start with the basics.  I live close to downtown, I work downtown, I frequently patronize a wide variety of downtown establishments, I’m part-owner of a downtown business and I support (and have worked in) our visitor industry.  Under no circumstances would I ever want the image of downtown Anchorage to be that of John William Martin III.

But by now readers have surely heard about Mr. Martin who, for the past several weeks, has been staging a protest of municipal policies towards homeless residents by occupying space on the sidewalk near City Hall.  Because I frequently spend time in the area I’d noted his presence long before the media and found it far less disruptive than other sidewalk activities.  Some examples include:

  • People queuing up to patronize sidewalk vendors,
  • Young people “hooping” (employing hula hoops),
  • Intoxicated individuals loudly greeting one another and conducting their affairs, and
  • Bicyclers apparently ignorant of laws prohibiting riding on sidewalks downtown.

Having observed Mr. Martin many, many times I have never heard him raise his voice, seen him interfere with anyone’s passage or otherwise accost an individual.  In fact, I actually took a few minutes to speak with him (he was quite courteous, and I doubt he knows I’m on the Assembly) and learned that he’d like to speak with the mayor regarding his concerns about homelessness and get some assurance that as we work to eradicate homeless camps in our parks we provide some place for those folks to go.  That makes some sense, so why the kerfuffle?

First off, let’s recall that the administration officials seeking to make Mr. Martin’s sit-in illegal are the same folks who repeatedly lost court battles over ordinances seeking to eradicate homeless camps.  This despite my efforts to find common ground between the administration’s position and the ACLU.  In the end the administration’s intransigence cost taxpayers more than $90k in legal fees to the ACLU’s lawyers, goodness-knows-how-many MOA attorney hours, roughly a year’s delay in enforcement and resulted in a law far more liberal than any lawmaker had previously proposed.

Second, when the administration capitulated to the ACLU’s standards I cautioned that enforcement was only one part of the issue – we had to work with service providers, particularly in the more-efficient non-profit sector, to help break the cycle of homelessness.  Instead, the opposite has occurred.  Not only has the municipality’s support of non-profits declined over the past two years (though the Assembly has restored some of the most draconian administration-proposed cuts), but the administration’s ill-considered attack on the fire department’s “Fill-the-boot” campaign cast a chill over municipal employee volunteerism as evidenced by an anemic 2010 Share campaign (the city’s version of a United Way workforce campaign).  I’m told employee efforts were severely curtailed following the administration’s new policy, meaning that many municipal employees were never given an in-person opportunity to make a contribution, and the numbers bear this out.  The 2009 campaign saw pledges of $145,077.17, which dropped to $53,361.00 in 2010 following new administration restrictions.

Third, what about the mayor’s homelessness leadership task force?  Well, we’ve adopted the cold weather ordinance, which allows churches to house the homeless during cold snaps without the more-lengthy permit process associated with homeless shelters.  And there is a “wet housing” facility underway (though in the wrong location).  But every other recommendation, including the one where we provide more housing options prior to closing down camps, has fallen on deaf ears.

Finally, let’s talk about leadership.  Administration officials tout the concept of non-profits aiding the community so it’s worth asking if they walk that talk.  I reviewed the United Way of Anchorage’s recently-issued Leadership Giving 2010 booklet, which thanks those who’ve donated $1,000 or more, and searched it for names of senior administration officials and Assembly members.  I’ll note that there are many worthy charitable organizations in our community and the United Way is just one among them, but I’d argue that there’s no single-entity that brings a more holistic approach to resolving homelessness issues.  Ready for the count?

Four (of eleven) Assembly members gave at a leadership level in 2010.  Two (of about 30 I searched for) senior administration officials gave at a leadership level in 2010 (and neither has an “S” in their initials).

So the administration is free to propose whatever laws they see fit, and they might even come up with one that passes constitutional muster (hopefully without spending another small fortune on attorney’s fees), but it’d be nice to see those efforts aimed at providing help for those who need it.  And, if you don’t like Mr. Martin’s appearance or behavior, please recall that the average homeless person is about nine years old.



This contribution was made on Saturday, 23. July 2011 at 11:46 and was published under the category Neighborhoods. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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  1. Excellent analysis of the issues and very accurate description of the mayor’s heartlessness.

    Comment: friend43 – 23. July 2011 @ 2:07 pm

  2. Good points, but I don’t think it is fair to use donations to United Way as your test of putting your money where your mouth is. Perhaps the Mayor and his administration gives to other charities. You should ask them. But still, it seems like the people who scream the loudest that private charities should pick up the slack when government stops providing for those who need help are not the ones actually contributing. Having so many conservatives may account for why Alaska has one of the lowest rates of charitable giving in the country.

    Comment: Jeff – 23. July 2011 @ 4:02 pm

  3. And can we please have an ordinance prohibiting people with greasy hair from being on the sidewalk?

    Comment: Jeff – 23. July 2011 @ 4:03 pm

  4. Thank you Patrick. I appreciate your comments in the blog and it is a good analysis. I am not a fan of the man sitting in front of City Hall but I can appreciate his protest.

    We had an employee who wanted to set-up a bunch of boxes around Municipal buildings so that people could donate coats and other cold weather gear to children. The employee would have handled the program at no additional costs to tax payers. The employee was told “no”.

    While the Mayor is wasting tax payer dollars paying his Municipal Lawyers to figure out how to remove a homeless man protesting in front of City Hall he has deflected the real issue at hand. Basically, he is not keeping his eye on the ball. He should be finding a solution to the homeless problem. The Mayor represents all the people of Anchorage, to include the homeless population. The 92K was better spent on working on the homeless issue in Anchorage, with a clear result, instead of what it was spent on.

    Kicking homeless out of their illegal camps and taking their only possessions away is not the answer. Respect, consideration and a clear direction to resolve the problem is in the key. The homeless population, every man, women and child deserves respect. So many homeless people are our beautiful children.

    Remember, Mayor Sullivan continues to cut our budget. Where is his homeless task force? Why isn’t he working on our important social service issues?

    My thought! Mayor is not looking good on this issue! I hope more people show up in front of City Hall to protest and ask why their tax dollars are not going to resolve the homeless problem in Anchorage. Instead they are going to personal beefs with a single homeless man who wants to shed some light on homeless people in Anchorage!

    Comment: Marie – 23. July 2011 @ 6:02 pm

  5. I am always amazed at the quick fix solutions that come out of this administration. It’s indicative of the bumper sticker mentality that permeates our society. I appreciate your efforts to rectify the cause of our problems rather than implement policies that merely quell the symptoms. Thank you…and thank you to all the assembly members who are working toward permanent solutions.

    Comment: Andrea – 24. July 2011 @ 6:11 am

  6. Well, now we know that a litmus test exists for whether you support local non-profits! Thanks, Patrick! Pretty presumptuous of you to assume that because people don’t donate to one specific campaign, that they don’t donate to charity at all. Some people have real problems with United Way because of some of the programs they support. This is beyond an unfair statement, and I suspect you know that, Patrick. I gather you are just trying to stir things up, which seems rather beneath someone of your stature and supposed intelligence. Pretty cheap and petty.

    Comment: Jim S. – 25. July 2011 @ 9:19 am

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