More housing, comprehensive case-management systems and better treatment options will all help social service providers treat the problem chronic inebriates in Anchorage, but finding the funding for those programs has always been a challenge. With state and federal budgets tighter than ever, the local business community hopes it can help.
Fairview lobbyist Paul Fuhs, working as a project manager for the Fairview Business Association, plans to take the Anchorage neighborhood's plea to the Alaska Legislature, where he hopes to convince legislators on both sides of the aisle that more money won't only help address the problem posed by some of the city's most chronic alcoholics -- but it will also help improve businesses in the neighborhood.
Located east of Downtown Anchorage, Fairview is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods but also one of its most blighted. Fuhs said at an Anchorage Chamber of Commerce luncheon Monday that 72 percent of Fairview businesses had reported being urinated or defecated on. He showed a picture of a line of people waiting outside the Oaken Keg liquor store attached to the Carrs on Gambell Street before its 11 a.m. opening. He noted the increased aggression of some of the inebriates and anecdotes of harassment that business customers and employees have relayed.
"We need to take this on," he said.
Fuhs was speaking specifically about the chronic inebriate population made up of some 400 people in the Anchorage area, he said, a group that specifically drinks or is drunk on the streets of Anchorage but are not necessarily homeless.
It's a problem that stretches back decades in Alaska's largest city. Even such services as the Anchorage Safety Patrol, which picks up intoxicated individuals on the streets of Anchorage, have known for years about the "Top 200" -- a group of users that make up half of all center intakes.
So what's the answer to solving the problem of chronic inebriates in Anchorage? Fuhs and fellow Fairview Business Association Board Chair Christopher Constant laid out a handful of suggestions at the meeting -- everything from stricter enforcement of alcohol sales, to public toilets, to a non-profit liquor store near the Anchorage Jail and sleep-off center that would funnel its proceeds toward alcohol treatment.
But no matter the next steps, funding will be the key issue. In 2012, Alaska collected $38.6 million in alcohol taxes, but under current regulations, only half of it goes to alcohol treatment and prevention programs. Two years ago, Sen. Johnny Ellis, who represents the Fairview neighborhood, attempted to get the rest of the money, which goes into the general fund, for rehabilitation, Fuhs said. But with no clear plan on how to use the additional money, the idea was nixed.
But this legislative session, Fuhs and others hope to change that. The association plans to go to the Legislature with a more comprehensive plan focusing on case management that includes specific performance metrics to make sure the money goes where it needs to go.
For Fairview, a neighborhood that feels increasingly burdened by a chronic alcoholic population, it's relief the community needs soon.
"We love our neighborhood, we love our town and we need your help," Constant said.