Four days after Anchorage police red-tagged homeless camps in Mountain View for shutdown, they returned Monday to find illegal campers still squatting on city land and gave them 20 minutes to clear out.
Some of the homeless said they would stay with friends or family. Others said they had no place.
The area known as Veteran's Ridge, just east of Reeve Boulevard and near a city snow dump, is dotted with maybe 30 to 40 homeless camps. Some tent sites were neat and tidy. Some spilled over with food, clothing, bikes and food stashes. One camp had a TV, stereo and two generators. Some sites were littered with beer cans and human waste. All of it had to go.
Ed O'Neill, head of the Anchorage Responsible Beverage Retailers Association, had once proposed setting up a sanctioned tent city there. Then last week three men were arrested in a suspected arson fire and another man was hospitalized after an assault. Police said Veteran's Ridge had to be cleared out. O'Neill brought in a crew of community service workers to do the job.
Notices posted Thursday on many camps told people to move out, though police gave them longer than the 12 hours on the signs. Now their time was up. Police handed out citations Monday for illegal camping.
One red-bearded man seemed confused. "Yeah. All right. Cool. I'll coordinate," he said.
"No, I didn't say coordinate. You can go down to the court anytime and contest it," police Sgt. Denny Allen said, explaining the $75 ticket.
The man wouldn't give his name to a newspaper reporter.
"So, you've got 20 minutes," Allen said. "Your time is rolling. My suggestion would be to start moving and doing something."
An hour later, the man was packing up while police and cleanup crews worked on nearby camps. Asked where he was going, he said, "I have nowhere to go." Most likely he'd sleep on the streets, he said.
His group of campers thought they were ready for winter. Now they say their homes are being dismantled because of troubles last week they didn't cause.
After the deaths of 13 homeless individuals this year in Anchorage, city officials are putting new attention on the long-time problem of homeless alcoholics and others who live illegally in the woods, along greenbelts and in city parks. The mayor has named a leadership team to work on the issue.
Public inebriates are the most visible of Anchorage's homeless and among the hardest to help. Many also suffer from brain injuries or mental illness. Some can't get into subsidized housing because of criminal records and can't afford anything else on day-labor gigs.
On Monday, a big group -- city health officials, cleanup workers, police volunteers, a soup kitchen representative, an expert in alcoholism -- trekked with police down a steep path off Reeve Boulevard into the swampy woods of Veteran's Ridge, near the Ship Creek industrial area and Tyson Elementary School. An official in a tie and camouflage jacket handed out fliers about social services. C.K. McKellar, a yellow-vested, white-bearded volunteer for O'Neill's group, led the cleanup. His dog Sophia, also in a bright yellow vest, bounded around the camp sites.
"You want the tents down?" McKellar asked police.
Yes, Allen said. It was all coming down.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska has raised concerns about what happens to the tents, sleeping bags and other property of individuals when their camps come down. As Alaska winter comes on, some worry about the survival of homeless people who refuse to go into the shelters.
Police say valuables including important papers should be turned over to them for safekeeping. The land is posted "no camping" and "no trespassing," and the campers had plenty of time to collect their belongings over the weekend and find another spot, police said. While it may not make sense to shut down one homeless camp only to have another pop up nearby, police say they must clear out problem camps to protect the public.
Most of the abandoned old tents don't have value, and the police have no space to store such big items anyway, said Lt. Dave Parker.
On Monday, cleanup crews stuffed personal items like clothing into yellow trash bags for the owners to claim.
Eventually, camp cleanups will be better coordinated with social agencies working on the spot with each individual, said Darrel Hess, the city's new homeless coordinator. Maybe the city needs a central storage facility to store people's belongings for a month or two, he said.
One campsite on Monday looked hastily abandoned. There were plastic containers of bakery cookies, some bean sprouts, some strawberries. Bags of photographic slides of someone's art work were stashed in a rusty pipe. A Girl Scout leadership manual lay in the dirt. A tangle of bikes and bike parts sparkled in the sunlight
After a couple of hours, one camp was nearly cleared out. Daniel Gentile and his significant other, Carol "Sandy" Towne, had been there about six months. They said they weren't alcoholics and weren't rowdy. They packed "everything that matters," Towne said. Clothes, books, papers, pictures of her children. An old Cajun man here for a spell had given them their tent, they said. It would be thrown away.
Towne, 60, said she works four days a week but doesn't make enough for rent. Gentile, 53, gets disability for back and hip injuries after a fall from scaffolding. They were hoping to get a place for at least the start of winter with their Permanent Fund dividends. They could stay with friends for a while, they said.
A friend who lived in the tent next door rushed home from work when he heard about the camp being torn down. Almost everything he owned was stuffed into yellow bags left by the side of the road. He spotted his tent poles nestled in the leaves and grabbed them.
Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.