On Thursday, October 10, 2023, a tense situation unfolded at a homeless camp near downtown Anchorage, Alaska. The city towed away several vehicles that people had been living in for months, including two buses, two box vans, a boat, and a fire engine. Some of the campers tried to resist the towing and were handcuffed and detained by the police. One woman, Madison Greenewald, said she lost all her belongings when her box truck was towed without giving her a chance to retrieve them. She was arrested and charged with criminal mischief for trying to push the truck through a hole in the fence.
The campers said they were frustrated and angry that their dwellings were being taken away and that they had nowhere else to go. They said the city had not provided them with adequate shelter options or services to help them get out of homelessness. They also said they felt harassed and criminalized by the city’s actions.
The towing operation was part of the city’s efforts to clear out the homeless camp at Third Avenue and Ingra Street, which had grown to be one of the largest and most visible in Anchorage. The city had posted notices on the vehicles informing the owners that they had to move them or face impoundment. The city said the vehicles were violating municipal codes and creating public health and safety hazards.
Mayor Bronson blames Assembly for homelessness crisis
As the towing was happening, Mayor Dave Bronson arrived at the scene and blamed the Anchorage Assembly for the homelessness crisis in the city. He said the Assembly had twice rejected his proposals to build a large shelter in East Anchorage that could house up to 500 people. He said if the shelter had been approved, the towing would not have been necessary and the campers would have had a place to stay.
Bronson said his administration was working on alternative solutions to address homelessness, such as converting hotels into transitional housing and expanding existing shelters. He said he hoped to have more shelter beds available by November 1, when the city’s emergency cold weather shelter program would start. He also said he was open to working with the Assembly and other stakeholders to find common ground on the issue.
The Assembly members, however, have criticized Bronson’s approach to homelessness as being too costly, unrealistic, and ineffective. They have questioned his estimates of construction and operating costs for the proposed shelter, as well as his plans for providing services and security at the facility. They have also expressed concerns about the location of the shelter, which is near a residential neighborhood and a school. They have argued that the city needs a more comprehensive and collaborative strategy to address homelessness, not just a single large shelter.
Advocates call for more compassion and support for homeless people
The towing incident also drew attention from advocates and observers who called for more compassion and support for homeless people in Anchorage. Eric Glatt, an emeritus attorney with the ACLU of Alaska, was at the scene filming with his phone. He said he was concerned about the civil rights and due process of the campers whose vehicles were towed. He said he wanted to document what was happening and hold the city accountable for its actions.
Glatt said he believed that towing vehicles used as homes was cruel and counterproductive. He said it did not solve the problem of homelessness, but only displaced people and made their lives harder. He said he hoped that the city would adopt more humane and effective policies to help homeless people, such as providing them with housing vouchers, rental assistance, case management, mental health care, and substance abuse treatment.
A private security guard who had been working at the site since last week also showed some sympathy for the campers. He had a pizza delivered and handed out slices to anyone who asked for one. He said he understood that some of the campers had fallen on hard times and needed help. He said he wished there were more resources available for them.