The ACLU says it's been unable to reach agreement with the Municipality of Anchorage over the rights of homeless individuals camping on public lands. The organization has formally served the city with the lawsuit it filed last month in Anchorage Superior Court -- a move that triggers court deadlines and requirements.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska is asking a judge to declare unconstitutional a city law passed last year allowing sweeps of homeless camps and removal of property -- from tents and sleeping bags to family photos and personal papers -- as waste. The camp closures can happen with as little as 12 hours' notice under the law, though city officials say none actually were shut down that quickly.
The city says the camps are illegal and they can be violent places. It is proposing to change the ordinance passed last July and give five business days' notice to homeless campers, allowing them time to clear out before the camp is closed. The revised ordinance, prepared by the Department of Law, is scheduled to be introduced at Tuesday's Assembly meeting.
Besides changing the notice period, the measure also removes responsibility for camp closures from Anchorage police. The proposal says that "a municipal official" will be responsible and can work with a contractor or private organization.
The ACLU was seeking two weeks' notice or a promise from the city to store property seized from homeless camps, said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska. Other communities around the country offer storage, he said.
With warmer weather here and more homeless people moving out of shelters and into camps, the ACLU does not want to wait for the Assembly to revisit the law, Mittman said.
Advocates also say that homeless people often just move deeper into the woods if a camp is shut down. The mayor's homeless leadership team doesn't want camps cleared unless people can be offered a more stable place to live.