Midtown Anchorage camp where a man was killed is a site of despair and dysfunction, neighbors say

The dense sidewalk camp on Fairbanks Street exposes an ill-defined policy on homeless vehicle camps. Community leaders and business owners say they don’t understand why the city hasn’t taken action.

A homeless camp crowding a city street in Midtown Anchorage spiraled into dangerous despair even before a shooting Saturday killed one man and wounded another there, neighbors say.

The camp is hard to miss: A dense collection of dozens of tents, RVs and other vehicles line a block of Fairbanks Street between East 40th and 42nd avenues, at the edge of the Home Depot on Tudor Road. The tents cover the sidewalk, and crowds of people drift up and down the block.

Local community leaders and business owners report overdoses, drugs, trash and a growing security problem at the site. They say the area is a public health concern and want the city to break up the camp and remove the vehicles and tents. They say they’re frustrated and bewildered by inaction.

It’s shocking to see, said Kris Stoehner, the president of the Midtown Community Council.

“I just don’t know why this has been allowed,” she said. “But the other question is, where do people go? How do we humanely treat people?

It’s not simple, says Alexis Johnson, the outgoing homeless coordinator for the municipality under the administration of Mayor Dave Bronson. The camp on Fairbanks Street exposes an ill-defined policy on homeless vehicle camps, an issue that has been prominent in West Coast cities such as Portland and Seattle.

“This is one of the municipality’s blind spots,” she said.

A violent episode

Early Saturday morning, the Fairbanks Street camp was visited by a burst of violence when two men showed up to rob a man sitting in a car at gunpoint, according to a criminal charging document filed in court. They’d come to buy fentanyl, the charging document said.


Keilen Reynolds and Dominick Santana are accused of then shooting 17 bullets into the densely packed camp, killing one man and wounding another. Farrel Suilua, 30, was killed. The other man, who has not been identified, had been sitting in his tent when he was shot in the foot.

Reynolds and Santana now face murder charges.

[Charges: Gunmen sprayed bullets into a crowded Anchorage homeless camp, killing one and wounding another]

On Tuesday morning, a white tent pockmarked with bullet holes remained at the camp. The resident hadn’t come back after the shooting, a camp resident told a reporter and photographer.

RVs, cars, trailers, tents and bicycles in various states of assembly lined the block, encroaching into the street and covering the sidewalk. It was still possible to drive down Fairbanks Street, but only haltingly. A dog on a chain napped in the shade. “DO NOT KNOCK!” read a sign on the door of one large van.

One man said he knew Suilua, who was killed early Saturday. Did he still feel safe at the camp? He shrugged.

“It happens,” he said.

A loudspeaker from the Home Depot next door blared a recorded message welcoming shoppers. A security guard stood sentry over the contractor pickup entrance to the store, just a few feet away.

In the middle of Fairbanks Street, a man dressed in layers in the summer warmth stood unsteadily on his feet, eyes blank, slowly tilting toward the ground.

‘It’s very vague’

Historically, most urban camping in Anchorage has involved tents in city parks and greenbelts, said Johnson, the homeless coordinator. The city has used a legal abatement process to clear camps under some limited circumstances. When most of the people at a camp are living within vehicles — running or not — the rules become much less clear, she said.

People living in vehicles on city streets have different protections from a person living inside a tent at a park, Johnson said. Vehicles that are vacant and abandoned can be towed. But in most circumstances, vehicles that have someone living in them cannot, under the current legal framework set forth by a 9th Circuit federal court decision.

The city is “not protected by code” to force people to move, Johnson said. And where would they move?


“It’s horribly defined in code,” Johnson said. “It’s very vague.”

Anchorage police can enforce right-of-way and Americans with Disabilities Act violations, including anything that obstructs use of a sidewalk or the public right-of-way on the street, Johnson said.

So far, that doesn’t seem to have happened at the Fairbanks Street camp.

An Anchorage Police Department community relations specialist did not respond to questions about why the police have not enforced right-of-way or Americans with Disabilities Act compliance laws at Fairbanks Street.


Carol Fraser works for an ownership group that owns several Aspen Hotels in Alaska and that bought a vacant lot immediately to the east of Fairbanks Street two years ago, for future development. After the Cuddy Park site was cleared of camps in May, about 10 vehicles moved the few blocks to Fairbanks Street almost immediately, she said. Now that number is up to roughly 75, she said.

“I would like the city to enforce the law,” wrote Fraser. “We have one murder on the street a few days ago — yet NOTHING HAS CHANGED.”


Fraser said she’d visited the site nearly daily and has been screamed at and threatened with an electric drill, and watched drug deals and public defecation. Nearby stores have been stolen from, she said. The Home Depot store has hired private security guards, an Atlanta-based corporate spokesperson wrote in an email.

“The safety of our associates and customers is our top priority, and we’re investing in additional resources to make sure they can work and shop safely in our stores,” the company’s statement said. “We also hope to work with the city and law enforcement to address these issues.”

What’s happening on Fairbanks Street is an increasing public health concern, said Ana Fisk, the president of Afognak Commercial Group, a subsidiary of the Afognak Native Corp., which owns a nearby Brown Jug liquor store and an empty lot adjacent. Trash and garbage have accumulated at the site, including used colostomy bags and hypodermic needles, she said. More people are moving in, compounding health and safety issues, she said.

“We have private security on site multiple times per day to ensure any encampments remain on public property only,” Fisk wrote in an email. Recently, a private security officer working for Afognak saved a person’s life by administering CPR, she said.

“I was grateful for his quick actions and presence,” she wrote.

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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.