The city of Anchorage just revamped the website where residents can report illegal campsites after complaints that the version launched over the summer was clunky and difficult to use.
City and police officials are trying to make it easier for residents to report the locations of illegal camps. The officials say they want to get people into housing and out of camps and off the streets. The effort comes as police have already posted closure notices on nearly 1,000 illegal camps so far this year, nearly five times the number posted in 2010.
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz announced the launch of the website, "AncWorks," in late June. At first, residents were asked to give descriptions of camp locations and a street address.
But the site was difficult to use on a smartphone and it wasn't possible to pinpoint a spot in the middle of the woods.
The newer version, built by the city's mapping center and modeled after a version used internally in homeless camp outreach earlier this year, is aimed at tackling those issues, said Lt. Jack Carson, the commander of the Anchorage Police Department team that posts closure notices on camps.
"The easier it is, the more people are going to respond and post what's truly out there," Carson said. "If it's a big, long, complicated thing, you'll get the dedicated people to do it, but people don't have a lot of time."
A link to the website can be found through the city website, muni.org. The new version allows for pins to be dropped anywhere in the city. It also allows people to add pictures and select the type of problem — "camp with tents," "tarp with no tents" and "trash only."
Carson said it helps police to get accurate information in one place. Illegal camps were historically reported to the city through a disjointed combination of phone calls and emails, said city spokeswoman Nora Morse.
Through late November, police had ordered 961 camps closed. A similar number were ordered closed in 2015, but the rate far exceeds any year before that.
"Our goal is to keep up on them," Carson said. "We want to get them posted, we want to get them cleaned up and we want to get those people into housing eventually."
A "camp location census" this year found 68 sites within city limits that are frequented by campers, said city parks director John Rodda.
City parks officials have reported an astonishing amount of trash cleaned up this year, far exceeding prior years.
Through the first 10 months of the year, crews removed about 132 tons of trash, Rodda said.
That compares to 55 tons for all of last year, Rodda said.
He said the dramatic increase in trash removal may be tied to beefed-up staffing for parks maintenance crews this summer, as well as what has appeared to be a general rise in the number of camps.