ACLU asks court to halt homeless camp abatement at Anchorage park

For the second time this summer, the Alaska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Municipality of Anchorage over its effort to clear a homeless encampment in a city park, which the group alleges is cruel and unusual treatment.

On Wednesday, the ACLU of Alaska filed an appeal to the state’s Superior Court on behalf of 13 people camping at Davis Park in the northeast part of town by the Mountain View neighborhood. Last week, municipal officials posted abatement notices in the area telling campers they have until July 5 to leave. The civil rights group is also asking the court to pause the abatement proceedings, which would allow people there to stay.

Shelters in Anchorage are at capacity, and with no beds available, the municipality is barred from clearing people off public lands under a 2018 federal court ruling. Davis Park and the land around it is owned by the federal government and technically belongs to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Under the terms of a lease agreement with the municipality, the city oversees the park and uses part of the property as a snow dump. Recently, a few people staying in camps at Davis trespassed onto base, leading officials from the installation to push the city to abide by terms of the lease agreement that prohibit camping.

“Unfortunately we have to abate,” said Anchorage homeless coordinator Alexis Johnson said Tuesday.

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It will be the second abatement of a large encampment in Anchorage since the closure of a shelter inside the Sullivan Arena earlier this spring. The first one was around Midtown’s Cuddy Park ahead of a music festival. In that instance, too, the ACLU of Alaska sued on behalf of campers who said their civil rights were being violated, though the lawsuit came so late in the process that most people had already moved elsewhere by the time papers were filed.

“When the Municipality closed the only low barrier shelter and offered no alternatives, people in our community were pushed into living in public spaces. Now, they are repeatedly being told to clear out and move,” said ACLU of Alaska Legal Director Ruth Botstein in a written statement on the legal action.


In recent years, federal courts have issued consequential and far-ranging rulings that affect local governments’ abilities responding to homelessness. Among them are decisions that people cannot be kicked off public lands if there’s no feasible indoor shelter option available, and that they have a right to property that keeps them warm and dry while sleeping in the elements.

Homelessness officials with the city expect that a large number of the roughly 150 people camped at Davis will likely move over to a sprawling encampment on a municipally-owned plot of land by Third Avenue and Ingra Street at the northern edge of downtown. Or they might bring what they can carry to other parks or the city’s extensive greenbelt.

“Rather than implementing comprehensive, humane, and housing-focused solutions, the Municipality is forcing people to relocate to unknown and unidentified places around our city,” said said ACLU of Alaska Executive Director Mara Kimmel. “Our government officials cannot continue to ignore the constitution and punish people for existing in public spaces when they have nowhere else to go.”

The organization is asking the court for a decision on its request to block the abatement by the end of Monday.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

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.