City brings basic services to growing downtown Anchorage homeless camp as more people are expected to arrive

Some 200 people are living at a downtown lot that has seen sprawling encampments, RVs and vehicles proliferate in recent weeks.

Between 150 and 200 people are living in what was, until recently, an empty plot of municipally owned land near the intersections of Third Avenue and Ingra Street on the northeast edge of downtown Anchorage. In the weeks since the city closed down a large homeless shelter inside the Sullivan Arena, people with nowhere else to go have come to the lot, which is filled with camping tents, ramshackle forts fashioned from tarps and scrap wood, junked cars, a few boxy old delivery trucks and half a dozen RVs.

And with a second major homeless campsite expected to be cleared next week, more people are expected to soon move to the Third and Ingra lot.

After taking a relatively hands-off approach toward the camp during the last two months, municipal officials are beginning to bring basic services to the area. Those include two dumpsters, four Port-a-Potties, and two potable water stations.

On Monday afternoon, Mayor Dave Bronson walked through the encampment with several other high-level members of his administration. On the far side of the lot, municipal workers had piled assorted debris: shopping carts, plastic orange fencing, and dozens of wooden pallets, many of which were being built into an octagonal framed cabin before it was dismantled, according to officials. Inside one would-be room, they found a bathtub.

“The law is: You cannot build things on public property, so we’re gonna clean it up,” said Bronson, who has visited the area every couple days over the last several weeks. “This is way worse than Friday. We’ve got a collection of old ice cream trucks — that’s new. We’re going to intensively manage this site now, we’re not gonna just let it be haphazard.”

[A crucial van service in Anchorage’s public safety system is short-staffed, straining city fire and police]

A municipal dump truck was filling its second load of the day with trash pulled out of the camps.

“It’s just getting bigger and messier. I wish it was more complex than that, but it’s not,” Bronson said, after walking past tents scattered between the property’s fence line and a couple scrubby willows. “We’ve got a toddler and a newborn living here in a motor home.”


Neighbors and businesses in the area have been raising increasingly urgent concerns about the scale of the encampment and the rise in crime, vandalism, and nuisances that have followed. But the city has told them there is not much it can do. Without any alternative shelter available for the hundreds of people living outdoors across Anchorage, the municipality is legally barred by federal court rulings from abating camps.

That means while Parks and Recreation employees cleaned out unwanted garbage and unclaimed detritus, and a lone Community Service Officer affixed red tags to a handful of derelict cars, the city could not tell people to leave or confiscate their property.

“The tents are here. We’re not sending people away ‘cause there’s no place for them to go. We don’t have a shelter,” Bronson said.

The mayor said he plans for “intensive management” in the area. Though he mentioned a greater police presence, round-the-clock security, fencing and garbage pickup, it is not clear where logistics or funding for such services will come from. Earlier this month, Bronson told the Assembly that while he still supports the general idea of having sanctioned homeless camps in Anchorage, “There’s no money left to do a lot of this.”

“Well, we’re not doing a sanctioned camp,” Bronson said at the property on Monday, “but what it appears to be is in the eyes of the beholder.”

‘Such a fall backwards’

A little more than an hour after his visit, a spokesman for the mayor sent out a news release with a statement on cleanup efforts and a video of Bronson touring the area.

“This city is not gonna turn out to be Seattle or Portland or San Francisco. This is Anchorage. And we can’t allow stuff like this to go on,” Bronson said during the minute-long video produced by his staff, referring to large West Coast cities that are grappling with severe homelessness crises. “This mess, this bad behavior, will not be tolerated.”

Up until this week, there was little in the way of basic services or oversight at Third and Ingra, which Assembly Chair Chris Constant, who represents the area, said let problems grow unchecked.

“It’s a disaster. Immediately crime spiked over there,” Constant said. “The disorder is creating major impacts. It’s hurting people.”

In addition to people beginning to build structures, he said, neighbors have reported seeing tow trucks drop off vehicles at the lot. On Monday, one tumbledown RV had five cars in various states of deconstruction crammed around its entrance. Several smaller vehicle clusters were tucked into other pockets of the property. Constant said he’s worried about environmental contamination from “campsite mechanics who are pulling open engines.”

[Assembly delays decision on East Anchorage homeless shelter and navigation center]

The area has a rough history when it comes to homelessness. The Brother Francis Shelter and Bean’s Cafe soup kitchen are nearby, and in Constant’s view, the neighborhood has long been the city’s dumping grounds for the poor, sick, and those with nowhere else to turn. After years of advocacy and policy work by elected officials, businesses and residents, the neighborhood underwent a major change during the pandemic, when hundreds of people moved into the emergency shelter at the Sullivan Arena. Brother Francis has since capped how many people can stay there at 120 a night, and now operates around the clock, which has meant little to no turnover from day to day. But Constant and other property owners in the area say any progress made in the years since the pandemic emergency has now been erased.


“It’s just such a fall backwards,” Constant said. “It’s a de facto sanctioned camp.”

John Tatham owns a printing business across the street from the lot and says the neighborhood’s problems with crime and dysfunction are as bad as they’ve ever been.

“We’ve kinda given up on the idea this thing was going to be abated,” Tatham said. “So now all we’re asking for is management. And management starts with enforcing the laws.”

Tatham said every day when he arrives at his business, there’s a problem that’s spilled over from the camp. Sometimes it’s petty vandalism, a person crashing in an entryway, or damage to exterior electrical fixtures. Recently, as a driver was making a delivery, his truck was stolen. Tatham believes the administration and Assembly both share some of the blame for the situation, but is more interested in what can be done to fix things.

“Make a start. Anything. I don’t care. I don’t have an opinion on what should be done, just do something,” he said. “We are bracing for more of the same.”

Campers on notice at Davis Park

City officials acknowledge more people are likely to move to the Third and Ingra lot in the near future. The city’s other largest homeless encampment, in Mountain View’s Davis Park, is going to be cleared on July 5, sending another 150 or so people looking for a place to stay. While the municipality cannot abate camps on municipal land, Davis Park is on a parcel that belongs to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, which has been in talks with the city and police department for years about problems arising from the encampment.


“The homeless camps in Davis Park have led to security concerns for our installation,” said 1st Lt. Alexandra Smith, chief of media operations for the 673rd Air Base Wing at JBER.

The city has a lease agreement with the military to use a portion of that land as a snow dump. The terms of the lease prohibit camping on the property, and in order to honor the agreement, the city posted abatement notices to clear campers out. One reason for the sudden urgency is that people from the encampment were sneaking onto JBER.

“There have been incursions to the installation in the recent months, and we have cited people who trespassed or attempted to trespass on base who were part of the homeless camp at Davis Park,” Smith said, though she declined provide the number of such instances, citing “operational security.”

[Anchorage is considering setting up a sanctioned homeless camp with small, temporary shelters. Here’s how that might work.]

In the damp rain on Tuesday, abatement notices tacked to trees heading into the woods at the northeast Anchorage park spelled out the looming deadline.

Gordon Ratcliff, who camps at Davis, said he was concerned for his many friends and family members who stay in the area. He said he’d likely go where they go, though wasn’t sure if that would be the Third Avenue encampment, land that once housed the old Alaska Native Service Hospital where he was born.


“It’s a lot to have to pack things up again, again and again, just to find another spot where they’re going to kick us out again,” Ratcliff said.

Dozens of camps, large and small, were dispersed loosely in the Davis Park woods. Some gained a measure of privacy by hanging blankets, tarps, railings and, in one instance, a perimeter of stacked branches. The area next to the snow dump held a more densely packed network of tents and makeshift shelters. There, trash heaps were interspersed among mounds of belongings, some of which were carefully covered. Others were soaked from the morning’s rainfall.

‘We can’t enforce’

The abatement at Davis is the only one in the municipality. Elsewhere in the city signs have been posted liberally around greenbelt trails that are traditionally popular camping areas in the summertime.

“Closed to the public,” read one such sign, stapled to a birch tree near Chester Creek. A map of the area includes a red squiggle indicating a boundary where camping is disallowed under municipal law. “Personal property in this area is subject to removal without additional notice.”

The posters resemble formal abatement notices but are not. According to city homeless coordinator Alexis Johnson, such notices are posted every year and merely spell out the existing rules on the books prohibiting camping on public lands. Though this summer, the signs amount to a hollow threat.

“Because we don’t have shelter we can’t enforce any camping laws,” Johnson said.

The Anchorage Health Department, along with the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, have outreach workers visiting the Third and Ingra site in an effort to connect people with services and guide them toward housing resources. Johnson is helping with efforts to get basic services delivered and developing policies for dealing with abandoned vehicles at the site.

But she said she believes with winter just a few months away, there needs to be more attention on where people will go once the weather turns cold.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Brother Francis Shelter limited beds to high-needs individuals. It is now a low-barrier shelter.

Zachariah Hughes

Zachariah Hughes covers Anchorage government, the military, dog mushing, subsistence issues and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. He also helps produce the ADN's weekly politics podcast. Prior to joining the ADN, he worked in Alaska’s public radio network, and got his start in journalism at KNOM in Nome.

Marc Lester

Marc Lester is a multimedia journalist for Anchorage Daily News. Contact him at