Anchorage Assembly postpones vote on homeless camp rules while Bronson proposes criminal camping offense

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday postponed voting on a proposed ordinance that would put new restrictions on homeless camping, limit the size of encampments to 25 tents and give the city more power to tear them down in some cases, even when there are no shelter beds open.

The Assembly will again take up debate on the measure and vote during a special meeting April 18 — and they’ll consider another measure proposed by Mayor Dave Bronson at Tuesday’s meeting that would criminalize camping in numerous locations around the city.

City officials and homeless service providers are expecting a surge in unsheltered homelessness once the city’s emergency winter homeless shelters close at the end of May.

Bronson officials and several Assembly members say they hope the measure to limit camp sizes would help the city keep in check the public health and safety issues that cropped up in and around several large encampments last summer.

That measure is significantly scaled back from the initial version proposed by Bronson’s administration last month that would have added a criminal misdemeanor charge for some camping violations.

The ACLU of Alaska, homeless advocates and some Assembly members raised concerns over that element — which Bronson resurrected in the new proposal Tuesday night.

Bronson also called for the Assembly to immediately pass a measure that would pay for shipping the city’s prefabricated Sprung Structure tent, currently stored out of state, to Anchorage. The city purchased the structure in 2022 for Bronson’s now-dead project to build a mass homeless shelter in East Anchorage. The Assembly rejected Bronson’s request to consider it at the Tuesday meeting, asking him to put it on an upcoming meeting agenda.


Bronson, who is currently seeking reelection, has frequently resurrected the dispute with the Assembly over the project and wielded it as a political cudgel.

Criminal misdemeanor charges for camping

Under Bronson’s proposal for prohibited camping violations, a homeless camper who refuses to relocate to an offered shelter bed “or to otherwise cease prohibited camping” could be cited or arrested on a class B misdemeanor charge.

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, known as Martin v. Boise and the Grants Pass ruling, have “paralyzed” the city’s ability to address an unsheltered homelessness crisis. In September, Anchorage and multiple other cities across the nation called on the U.S. Supreme Court to review the rulings.

The ACLU of Alaska sued the city twice last summer to stop the dismantling of encampments in Anchorage.

Bronson’s measure asserts that as long as the city isn’t banning camping in all public spaces, it can specify locations in which homeless campers could be charged with a crime, even if shelter space isn’t available.

Those proposed locations include: public and private school premises; a majority of the downtown area; City Hall premises; and nine municipal parks in the downtown and Bootleggers Cove areas.

Also prohibited would be camping within 250 feet of: schools or licensed child care facilities; the Campbell Creek, Chester Creek, Fish Creek, Ship Creek and Coastal trails; city dog parks, golf courses and trails; and utility boxes or other critical infrastructure, “including but not limited to airfields, snow disposal sites, or telecommunication and electrical infrastructure.”

The Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness said in a statement Wednesday that it is still analyzing the mayor’s proposal, but that the “proposed new ordinance appears to take a punitive viewpoint of encampments.”

The coalition gave input to the administration as officials drafted the other ordinance on camp size limits. Its executive director, Meg Zaletel — also the Assembly’s vice chair — previously raised concerns over “enforcement-driven” elements in the administration’s first proposal.

Size limits and other proposed rules for camps

Before Assembly members postponed that ordinance, they approved one change put forward by Assembly member Karen Bronga that reduced the proposed size limit on encampments to 25 tents and makeshift shelter structures, instead of 50 as previously proposed.

If members pass the measure April 18, it would also ban camping altogether within 10 blocks or 1 mile of any licensed homeless shelter.

The coalition has voiced support for that rule, saying that it protects shelter clients, especially those who may be trying to stay sober. It has also said that smaller camp sizes are safer for homeless residents and outreach workers, though it generally does not support forced dismantling of homeless camps.

The city may dismantle camps that break the rules, even without shelter beds to offer campers, if the measure passes.

The code changes would also 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.”

Bronga has proposed several other changes to the measure that Assembly members have not yet voted on. Her amendments include one that would exempt public school grounds from the city’s abatement notice requirements. That means officials would be able to immediately tear down a camp on school property, without first notifying the homeless campers.

Another part of the measure would allow the creation of “designated safe parking areas” this summer for people living in their vehicles. However, Assembly member Felix Rivera introduced a separate ordinance Tuesday that would allow safe parking areas, plus a few more rules for them.


Both measures would allow up to 25 vehicles in safe parking areas. To open one, a person or organization could apply with Anchorage Health Department and Planning and Development Services.

In Rivera’s version, there would be additional requirements for the areas, a written plan and agreement with the city, access to restrooms and washing facilities in immediate proximity, a “good neighbor” policy and a minimum of three days’ notice to people staying in a safe parking area before its closure.

At Tuesday’s meeting, city homeless coordinator Alexis Johnson told Assembly members that the court rulings tied the city’s hands last summer, even while vulnerable homeless residents, neighbors and businesses experienced serious health and safety problems in and around a large downtown encampment at Third Avenue and Ingra Street.

“What this does is it carves out parameters within Martin v. Boise to say there are just some things that are not going to be acceptable in our city anymore,” Johnson said of the proposed rules. “We’re not abating citywide. We are going to focus on people who are camping within 10 square blocks of a shelter, or encampments that get too large where it poses a public health and safety risk for the campers.”

Still, the measure is a “Band-Aid on a bullet hole” because there is not enough year-round shelter, she said.

Disputes over shelter

On Tuesday, Assembly members approved enough funding to keep city winter shelters open through May.

The state House has included in its proposed budget $4 million to keep one open for the rest of the year, the city’s 200-bed mass shelter in Midtown. But whether state lawmakers will keep the funding in the budget is still uncertain. Assembly members and the city’s lobbyists, along with the Bronson administration, are pushing for that funding.

Johnson has said the city could see about 900 people living unsheltered come June, and in recent meetings she’s criticized the Assembly for not funding year-round shelter.


Assembly members have rejected her framing of the situation, saying that the administration hasn’t put forward a serious proposal and funding plan. Several have said that they want the administration to do so, and that they’d support a plan to keep, at least, the Midtown shelter open.

On Tuesday, the appropriation for winter shelter through May was brought forward by Assembly members Anna Brawley and Rivera, rather than the administration, prompting criticism from Assembly Chair Christopher Constant.

“The administration abdicated its responsibility and left it again to members of the Assembly to provide the source of funds to make that funding possible,” Constant said.

When Bronson attempted to introduce last-minute the $240,000 proposal to ship the Sprung Structure, Assembly members told the administration to instead put it on the next meeting’s agenda. The mayor’s office immediately slammed the Assembly for the move in a written statement.

“With nearly 900 people slated to hit the streets of Anchorage on June 1 when emergency cold weather shelter ends, the administration is leaving no stone unturned to find a sheltering solution for the city’s most vulnerable citizens. Unfortunately, the Anchorage Assembly has denied every solution the administration has brought forward and has provided no alternative,” the mayor’s office said.

Rivera, who chairs the Housing and Homelessness Committee, hit back in his own statement, saying Bronson “has yet again demonstrated his willful ignorance when it comes to the legislative process.”

In his statement, Rivera said that “the item brought before us today was not a plan or solution being presented to the Assembly. It was simply the appropriation of funds to ship the Sprung structure up to Alaska.”

“If the administration has a plan to address the rise in unsheltered homelessness once Emergency Cold Weather Shelter closes, I look forward to seeing that in the future,” he said.

Bronson in 2021 proposed building a 1,000-person Sprung Structure facility for homeless shelter and navigation services in East Anchorage, scrapping homelessness plans advanced by previous administrations. Assembly members reduced the proposal to accommodate a capacity of 150 to 200 people, concerned about neighborhood impacts and what they called “warehousing” the homeless.

The Assembly halted the project after learning that the Bronson administration allowed millions of dollars in construction work to proceed without Assembly approval, violating city contracting rules. Cost estimates for the facility had ballooned, and it was never clear how the Bronson administration planned to pay for running the shelter once it was built. It also had not received necessary city engineer safety approvals for snow and wind loads.

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