A tense afternoon of vehicle towing and a microcosm of frustration over homelessness in Anchorage

In a tense scene on Thursday, the city towed away many of the vehicles that have crowded an Anchorage lot at a sprawling homeless camp near downtown.

Several campers were handcuffed and detained by police. The Anchorage Police Department said the city towed two buses, two box vans, a boat, a fire engine and two cars.

What unfolded at the Third and Ingra camp was a microcosm of the exasperation felt over this moment in Anchorage’s homelessness crisis, with emergency winter shelter not yet open and hundreds of people still camping on public land.

The towing — expected among camp residents for more than a week — started just as ice pellets were starting to fall on a raw October day. Cold puddles filled a pockmarked lot where a collection of vehicles had been growing since the spring, when the city shut down the large shelter at Sullivan Arena.

Frustration moved in every direction in the parking lot.

The people living in the vehicles said they were frustrated and angry that their dwellings were being carted off to languish in impound lots. One woman, Madison Greenewald, said the box truck she had been living in for three weeks was towed without a chance for her to gather any belongings from it. All she had was what was in her pockets, she said: “A screwdriver, a lighter and two bolts.”

Greenewald said she had been handcuffed after trying to push the non-operable box truck through a hole in the fence. Police said she was arrested and charged with criminal mischief.


As all this was unfolding, Mayor Dave Bronson arrived. The situation, he said, was due to the Anchorage Assembly’s unwillingness to agree to build a large homeless shelter. The Assembly has twice voted down the Bronson administration’s proposals to finish building a large shelter in East Anchorage, first after the administration pushed ahead with millions of dollars’ worth of construction work without required Assembly approval, and later after members questioned the costs associated with constructing and operating the shelter.

“All this is unnecessary,” he said, gesturing at the acres of soaked tents and vehicles. “It’s been unnecessary for more than a year. If we had a large shelter to put about 500 people in, we wouldn’t have to go through this over and over and over.”

Police officers stood by as private tow truck operators hauled away vehicles people had been living in.

The scene drew observers: A private security guard, who said he’d been working at the site since last week, had a pizza delivered, handing out slices to anyone who asked for one. Eric Glatt, an emeritus attorney with the ACLU of Alaska, stood nearby observing, occasionally filming with his phone. Two citizen journalists filmed exchanges between campers and police.

Mike Poirier, a mechanic from Mat-Su who had been living at the camp, said he was sitting in his Toyota Camry when he was pulled from the vehicle by police and handcuffed for trespassing.

“They physically removed me out of the car and impounded the car.”

Poirier said he was in handcuffs for “five or 10 minutes” until he could call his brother, who paid a fine over the phone. He was then released.

“That’s what me and my wife were living in, is my (vehicle),” Poirier said. “Now we’re homeless with nothing.”

Apollo Naff, the owner of about 15 of the vehicles, hung back and engaged on his phone, trying to figure ways to keep his fleet out of the impound lot.

Jarvis Wallace, a diesel mechanic, revved the engine of a large surplus fire truck. Police told him to stop. At one point, he stood on top of it. Later, police said Wallace was arrested and charged with interfering with vehicle impounding, violating conditions of release, criminal mischief and misconduct involving a controlled substance.

Then, in the early afternoon, a line of tow trucks arrived, parking on Third Avenue.

Soon after, Bronson showed up with city homeless coordinator Alexis Johnson and parks director Mike Braniff.

He said the visit wasn’t planned. They had been at a separate homeless camp at Cuddy Family Midtown Park and had driven by Third and Ingra, noticed the tow trucks and decided to stop, he said.

Wallace, the diesel mechanic who had twice been handcuffed by police on Thursday, approached the mayor.

“Hey, I spent a lot of time getting that thing to run,” he said, gesturing to the mammoth Anchorage airport fire truck. The mayor nodded.

“If you shut this down, it’s just going to happen somewhere else,” Wallace said. “I’ll get another big ass truck just to prove it to you.”

The mayor told him the lot was public property, and not a place to store things.


“I’m sorry it’s not working out for you, but it’s not working out for a lot of people,” Bronson told Wallace.

Bronson said that until Anchorage has a large shelter, things will not change.

Winter is coming, and the temporary shelter the city is planning to offer at the former Solid Waste Services headquarters is not ideal, Bronson said.

“It’s a garage, where we worked on garbage trucks,” he said. “That’s what I’m forced to do.”

A city bus that several people had been living in was towed away using specialized equipment for large vehicles.

Right before it was hauled off, residents had hastily pulled belongings out of the bus and piled them on the muddy ground. As the rain pelted down, they scrambled to cover the items with a tarp.

More tow trucks arrived to continue removing vehicles.

Daily News multimedia journalist Loren Holmes and reporter Tess Williams contributed to this report.

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Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.