At lunchtime on Wednesday, train horns, alarm bells and sirens pierced the air over East Third Avenue near downtown Anchorage.
The noise twisted the faces of people walking or living in tents on the sidewalk along the street that slopes down to Bean's Cafe and Brother Francis Shelter. Some of them walked down the street and crossed the road to confront the source of the din — Ron Alleva, the owner of Grubstake Auction Co., which is next door to the shelter.
Alleva was staging his latest effort in a yearslong campaign against the social services agencies, which he has accused of "long-term enabling" homeless people and turning the neighborhood into a messy, unsafe environment. He says the shelters should be closed.
Alleva stood on the side of the street opposite Brother Francis Shelter, next to a billboard sign. The sign said, falsely, that the shelter was closing Oct. 1.
"THE PARTY IS OVER," the sign said. Alleva had piled empty plastic booze bottles at the base of the sign.
"Where's the benefit in dealing with these people? Is there any?" said Alleva, wearing a bright orange hat that read "Security." "I've cleaned up enough fecal material."
Within minutes, people had walked up and torn most of the letters off. A woman walked up and wrapped her hands around one edge of the sign and pulled it over. The sign crashed to the ground.
Alleva is known for fiery testimony at community meetings and for staging demonstrations to air his grievances. In 2012, an employee of Alleva's arranged empty booze bottles in the shape of hearts, skulls, the state of Alaska and the words "NO BOOZE" on the chain link fence where the road dips toward the Anchorage jail. The same year, Alleva filed a lawsuit against the city and the social service agencies for creating what he called a "public and private nuisance."
Alleva says he has compassion for people who stay in the shelter or eat food at the soup kitchen. He's hired some to work in his auction yard. But he also uses words like "subhuman" and "vermin" to describe the homeless.
On Wednesday, Alleva was joined by his wife, Annette, and daughter, Jasmine. They said they are, after 30 years, thoroughly fed up with vandalism, alcohol, drug use and acts of violence happening around the shelter and on their properties. It isn't safe for anyone, including people who live there, they said.
"This is a crisis," Annette Alleva said, looking out at Brother Francis Shelter. "We're drawing attention to it."
On the other side of the street, anger and confusion had spread, directed at Ron Alleva.
"I think the way he's putting that noise out is discriminating against people who have hearing problems," said one man who walked up.
Alleva had planned a show for Wednesday, distributing an invitation at Tuesday night's Anchorage Assembly meeting to a "tour" of the shelter and the soup kitchen. He listed the invitees as the governor, the mayor and members of the Anchorage Assembly and the state Legislature, and social workers.
Among those invitees, just one showed up: Assemblyman John Weddleton of South Anchorage, who also owns a business in Spenard and questioned Alleva about the noise.
City homelessness coordinator Nancy Burke did not attend. But Burke said city officials have been "really recognizing" the impacts on Alleva and his family. The city is working on housing for people who are illegally camping in the area, Burke said.
As Alleva's horn blared, along with a muffled emergency weather warning, a tearful woman approached Alleva from across the street.
"Why are you guys doing this?" she asked, identifying herself as homeless.
"My lawyer said I can't talk to you," Alleva replied. "You got to go to the other side of the street."
The woman stayed put for a few moments more, demanding answers. Eventually she walked back across the street. A man started picking up plastic bottles and throwing them in Alleva's direction.
The Allevas have owned their properties for about 30 years. For the past several years, the auctioneers have been trying to sell the property. The city has obtained an appraisal and is now acting as a liaison in those discussions, said Robin Ward, the city real estate director. Ward said she doesn't yet know who the buyer might be.
Soon the cops appeared. They told Alleva to clean up the sign and empty bottles from the street. After they warned him that he could be cited, the horns and sirens stopped; they had been blaring for about a half-hour.
Alleva obtained a noise permit from the city, but that was rescinded in May, said Shannon Kuhn, a spokeswoman for the city health department. Lisa Sauder, the executive director of Bean's Cafe, said the sirens and horns had been used intermittently in recent years.
By 2 p.m., a flatbed truck had appeared, owned by Community Work Service, a cleanup crew for people doing court-ordered community service. Slowly the tents and belongings on the sidewalk began to disappear as people packed up. Some of the trash went into the back of the truck, said Sally Jones, an officer with the police department's Community Action Policing team, which works on homelessness issues and was supervising the cleanup.
Jones said the police were responding to calls about Alleva's noise, as well as trash in the area.
Carl Washington, 41, was among those gathering his stuff. He said the police were respectful.
But he, like many others, was not happy with Alleva. The noise wasn't right, he said.
By late afternoon, all was quiet. The sidewalk above the Grubstake Auction Co. lot was mostly clear. The tents and tarps were packed up — for now.