Anchorage Assembly to vote on proposed new rules for homeless camping

The Anchorage Assembly is set to consider an ordinance that would place new restrictions on homeless camping and give the city more power to tear down encampments in some cases — and more quickly — even when there are no shelter beds open.

The proposed measure is significantly scaled back from the initial version, which Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration proposed last month, after two consecutive summers with several hundred to 1,000 or more homeless residents living outside.

Assembly members are set to debate and likely vote on the revised set of changes to city code during their upcoming Tuesday meeting.

The ACLU of Alaska and homeless advocates raised concerns about some elements in the first version, and the administration has incorporated input from Assembly members and the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness.

One big change is that it no longer proposes adding a criminal misdemeanor charge for camping violations, a piece that homeless advocates strongly opposed. It also would no longer put a blanket prohibition on camping in downtown, an area where many homeless services are concentrated. Language to prohibit camping in city parks, school grounds and other areas was also removed.

Broadly, the latest version of the ordinance proposes limiting the size of encampments to 50 tents and makeshift shelter structures. It would ban camping altogether within 10 blocks or 1 mile of any licensed homeless shelter. The city could dismantle camps that break those rules, even without shelter beds to offer campers.

And it would reduce the length of time the city must wait to clear a camp after posting an abatement notice from 15 days to 10. Current city code allows a 10-day notice for clearing a “zone or campsite area.”


The proposal comes as city officials and homeless service providers anticipate a surge in unsheltered homelessness with the impending closure of the city’s three emergency winter homeless shelters. City funding for the shelters is expected to run out by June.

[Anchorage hit a record for homeless people dying on the streets. Then the deaths almost completely stopped. Why?]

“There are 574 people in those three shelters. And they will be joining the nearly 250 to 300 people that are currently living outside,” city homeless coordinator Alexis Johnson told Assembly members during a March 29 meeting on the proposal.

That’s about 900 people who will be unsheltered this summer, she said.

When the city closed its winter shelters last spring, hundreds of people were left with nowhere to go. Camping proliferated throughout city parks, empty lots and green spaces, and many slept in vehicles and on city streets.

Vulnerable homeless residents, neighbors and nearby businesses suffered significant public health and safety issues in and around several large encampments, including those next to Cuddy Park in Midtown and at Third Avenue and Ingra Street in downtown.

Officials are grappling with how the city might better handle a similar crisis this year.

“We really need to set some clear guidelines with the clients, as well as the community, to say, ‘This is how camps are going to look this summer,’” Johnson said.

Protecting public health and safety is largely the impetus for the measure, she said.

Two civil rights rulings by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals have largely protected homeless residents’ right to sleep on public property when there isn’t space in homeless shelters. Bronson has said the rulings have “paralyzed” the city’s ability to address the homelessness crisis.

In September, Anchorage and multiple other U.S. cities called on the U.S. Supreme Court to review the rulings.

At the Third Avenue encampment, “we had nearly 200 people in that vicinity that were having deep troubles,” Johnson told Assembly members during a recent meeting. “It kind of felt like our city — we really had nothing to offer at the time or really no legal authority.”

The ordinance would disallow camping again at that location, due to its proximity to the Brother Francis Shelter.

The coalition supports limiting camp sizes and prohibiting camping near established homeless shelters, according to its executive director, Meg Zaletel.

“The shelter perimeter is to protect the health and safety of shelter residents,” said Zaletel, who is also the Assembly’s vice chair.

For example, the encampment by Brother Francis was problematic for people living in the shelter and trying to stay sober, she said.

The administration has proposed a limit of 50 tents and structures at encampments instead of the 50-person limit proposed in the initial version because accurately counting the number of people in an encampment is difficult, said Mario Bird, Bronson’s chief of staff.


Officials may whittle down the number of tents before voting on the measure.

Assembly member Karen Bronga said the number should be reduced, noting that multiple people often share tents and shelter structures with others.

The coalition, which does outreach to unsheltered people throughout the municipality, had suggested limiting the size of camps to 50 people, to keep them safer and more manageable, Zaletel said.

“And the way we know that is, we go into larger encampments, particularly during the winter that are in that (size) that don’t feel unsafe, but when they grow in the summer, we see that they do become unsafe,” Zaletel said.

The measure would allow the creation of “designated safe parking areas” for people living in their vehicles, limiting the size to 50 vehicles. Government, nonprofit and religious organizations could apply for a permit from the Anchorage’s health and planning and development services departments.

During the meeting, Assembly member Anna Brawley called for the administration to provide a map of prohibited camping areas ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

“The bigger the buffer you draw around something, the less of our physical land somebody is legally allowed to exist on,” Brawley said.

Johnson said the city is working on creating a map. The city needs to get information to homeless residents before shelters close so that people know where they can go and avoid being hassled or forced to move, she said.


“We’ll have a map handy that says, ‘Hey, this is where you will have the least amount of trouble if you’ve set up camp here. These are no-go zones,’” she said.

The proposed ordinance no longer explicitly bans camping on school grounds and parks and trails, nor would it allow the city to clear camps in those areas immediately, as previously proposed.

City code currently allows for officials to give 72 hours’ notice to anyone camped within 100 feet of a “protected land use” area, which includes schools, playgrounds and paved greenbelt and major trail systems, such as the Chester Creek, Ship Creek, Campbell Creek and coastal trails.

It’s unclear whether the city would enforce that provision this summer if no shelter space is available.

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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