The Anchorage Assembly voted Tuesday night to give illegal campers on public lands less time to collect personal belongings before the camp is cleared out by city clean-up crews.
Tuesday's action means people will now have 10 days to move after police post an eviction notice on the camp. After that, any items left behind can be thrown out. Since 2011, when the city lost a lawsuit to the American Civil Liberties Union, the city's policy had been 15 days.
Assemblyman Eric Croft of West Anchorage, who introduced the measure, called it a "small but important step to regaining control of parks" in Anchorage. The city's elected officials have been under mounting pressure from neighborhood residents to take swifter action to clean up camps, a year-round presence around city parks and trails.
At the same time, homeless advocates say Anchorage has maxed out its housing resources for the chronically homeless and it's unlikely the measure will make a big difference without giving people a place to go. City officials also say that the speed of illegal camp clean-ups depends on resources available to the city parks department, and sometimes, other campers move in to replace the ones who were evicted.
It wasn't immediately clear whether the ACLU of Alaska would challenge the new ordinance in court. Spokesman Casey Reynolds said the organization will review it in the coming days.
Croft first introduced the ordinance in October. He emphasized Tuesday night that since then, the city has allocated several hundred thousand dollars toward 2018 initiatives to help connect homeless people with housing and jobs. He also noted that more money was being spent on parks department staff to clean up camps next year.
Croft said he hoped the prospect of the lawsuit was lessened by those policies. He said he also wasn't interested in simply moving people in camps around.
The ordinance approved Tuesday broadly allows the city to act more quickly on any kind of activity defined by city law as a "public nuisance," but it was tailored to illegal camps.
Very few people spoke to the Assembly on Tuesday night about the measure, and no one who testified said they themselves were homeless. One man told the Assembly the change seemed unconstitutional.
Wayne Hall of Rogers Park said he'd heard the argument that the ordinance would simply move camps from one place to another, but he thought the ordinance was "a small step" in the right direction.
"Such movement makes illegal camping less convenient and comfortable for those involved and it provides some consequence where none would otherwise exist," Hall said.
Hall said he hoped the measure would motivate anyone camping illegally to look for other options.
In other business Tuesday night, the Assembly approved a $77,000 agreement to lease an electric bus to be test-driven on Anchorage streets this winter. City transportation officials say the lease is a test run to see if the battery-powered technology will work in Anchorage's cold climate.