Anchorage Mayor Bronson proposes new limits for homeless camps

Mayor Dave Bronson has proposed a set of changes to city code to add new limits on homeless camping and give the city more power to tear down some encampments, even when no shelter is available.

Another piece of the proposal would allow the city to designate places where people living in vehicles could park and sleep.

The ordinance would add a 50-person size limit on encampments and ban camping altogether in some areas, prohibiting camping within 10 blocks of any licensed homeless shelter. It also would add to city code a criminal misdemeanor charge for prohibited camping violations.

And it would allow the city to clear homeless camps with little notice under several new circumstances — including what would essentially amount to a ban on camping downtown.

The ACLU of Alaska and homeless service organizations are raising concerns about elements of the proposal.

Current city code already allows the city to, without prior notice, quickly tear down camps “where exigent circumstances posing a serious risk to human life and safety exist.” Bronson’s proposed ordinance would expand that. The city could rapidly tear down:

• Any camp located downtown.


• Any camp on school grounds.

• Any camp within 100 feet of parks “designated for a particular purpose.” Those include, but are not limited to, trails, dog parks and disc golf areas.

• Camps within 100 feet of a private residential property.

• Camps within 100 feet of a utility box or “other public or private critical infrastructure.” That includes snow dump sites, airfields, telecommunication infrastructure and more.

The city can currently abate camps on public land that is not open to the public, such as if trespassing or no camping signage is posted.

By establishing in the ordinance where people can’t camp, “we’ve kind of pseudo-established where people could camp,” city homeless coordinator Alexis Johnson told the Assembly’s Housing and Homelessness Committee earlier this week.

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The Bronson administration’s proposal comes after two consecutive summers with several hundred homeless residents living outside unsheltered, camping in parks and green spaces and sleeping on streets.

“We cannot let happen what’s been going on in our public spaces anymore. Certainly not this summer. We’re turning a corner here. I know I’m done with it,” Bronson said during a recent interview on homelessness and the proposal.

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When the city closed its winter shelters last spring, several hundred people were left with nowhere to go, and camping proliferated throughout city.

The city saw several large encampments spring up, including next to Cuddy Park in Midtown and on Third Avenue in downtown, and vulnerable homeless residents, neighbors and nearby businesses suffered significant public health and safety issues.

“That is a fear for us this summer — if we do not keep shelter up and running — where people will go. Because we know that they will go unsheltered,” Johnson said.

“We need to come in and demand some accountability, compassionately, of these people that we need to not be living on our streets, and in our parks, and on our trails,” Bronson said.

The ordinance and policy changes would give the city more latitude, Bronson said.

“We’re exploring all these avenues on how to push up against Martin v. Boise,” Bronson said, referring to one of the two civil rights rulings by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which have broadly protected homeless residents’ right to sleep on public property when there isn’t space in homeless shelters.

In September, the Anchorage joined multiple other U.S. cities in calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to review the other ruling, referred to as the Grants Pass ruling. Bronson has characterized the rulings as having “paralyzed” the city’s ability to address the homelessness crisis.


The ACLU of Alaska last summer twice sued the city to stop the destruction of camps in Anchorage parks.

Spokeswoman Meghan Barker on Friday said the ACLU of Alaska is looking into Bronson’s new proposal and has concerns about it.

“If you exclude every area near existing shelters, downtown, and within 100 feet of parks, private homes, and utilities or infrastructure such as snow dumps, and cap camping at 50 people, would there even be anywhere left that the existing unhoused population could legally go?” Barker said by email.

The Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness supports some pieces of the proposal, including the size limit for camps, and supports creating safe parking areas for people living in vehicles, said its executive director, Meg Zaletel. She is also a Midtown Assembly member and vice chair of the Assembly.

“That protects the public and the campers. We think that the Third Avenue situation was completely untenable last year. And we think that when camps get to be a certain size, they attract a very unsavory element,” Zaletel said.

The 10-block camping restriction around homeless shelters is meant to keep shelter clients safe, she said.

But other pieces of the ordinance appear to be enforcement-driven or exclusionary, rather than establishing clear public health and safety parameters, Zaletel said.

“There will be some things that we will absolutely not be supportive of in the proposed ordinance,” she said.

Barker with the ACLU said the Bronson administration should take actions “that don’t just push unhoused people to the far corners of our city and tidy things up, but that actually address the housing crisis that is killing Anchorage residents.”

Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at