Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Back-And-Forth Between Mayor And Homeless Protester Continues
John Martin III was arrested for failing to properly register as a sex offender but homeless protester refuses to leave downtown sidewalk. Anchorage mayor vows to continue fight to maintain public safety. Is this a battle of the wills or a deeper issue?
ANCHORAGE—The back-and-forth between Mayor Dan Sullivan and homeless protester and sex offender John Martin III continued Thursday night.
Martin says the mayor needs to treat the homeless with more respect. Sullivan says his team is already doing that.
Sullivan says Martin’s sitting and lying down on a downtown sidewalk blocks public space and affects everyone's safety.
After the mayor proposed a “safe sidewalk ordinance” and Martin was arrested, many say Sullivan is too focused on Martin.
But the mayor says the debate over sidewalk use is larger than one man. Sullivan says it’s an issue of public safety. Sullivan says what John Martin is doing should not be allowed.
“People have tried to make some relationship between me as far as attitude or being irritated with him,” Sullivan said. “It is really a bigger issue than that. Whether it is John Martin or somebody else, do you get the right to co-opt a public space, whether it is a park, or you are camping or a public sidewalk? Of course, my feeling is no.”
But Martin, who has been protesting right next to City Hall, eight floors below the mayor's office, says he's there for one reason: to talk to him about the mistreatment of the city’s homeless population.
“Treating people as human, like just with decency and understanding,” Martin said. “I would sit down with him, point by point and try to help him understand the path that would work.”
But so far, it's a path that's produced an arrest and an attempt by the mayor to ban sitting or lying down on a downtown sidewalk—which some say shows Sullivan is targeting Martin.
“If he spent the amount of energy that he spent to try to remove me but divert that energy to try to come up with a solution for the homeless I think we could already have the problem solved,” Martin said.
Sullivan insists his only concern is about public safety.
“I got an email that was sent from a lady,” he said. “She stood there right next to him as he smoked marijuana with teenagers on that corner. So, people can’t tell me that this is a safe situation down there.”
Martin says he didn’t do anything wrong.
“Whatever I might do myself, I don't extend that to anybody who would be underage for sure,” he said. “I'm not looking for housing so I passed it on to somebody who might be able to use it.”
The city’s homeless coordinator Darrel Hess says there are others like Martin, who refuse to get help and turn down services. Hess says he’s talked with Martin four or five times last year.
When people don’t want help, Hess said, there's not much the city or social agencies can do.
“Brother Francis Shelter is not intended to be a permanent residence but if people choose to not go into Brother Francis, how can Catholic Social Services or the city or anybody make them go?” Hess said.
“If he isn’t willing to accept our help or listen to our programs, what is his motive then?” Sullivan said.
“Winter is coming and people need to be able to dig in and survive, so we need to reequip them with the gear that was taken and then establish some space where it’s okay to pitch their tents,” Martin said.
Hess admits there’s more than one solution to Anchorage's homeless problem but the Anchorage Coalition For Homelessness is working on a registry to correctly identify how many people need help.
Hess said that data would be used to get more people on their feet, including an effort to house the five most vulnerable people on the streets with complete move-in costs, furnishings and food.
In the meantime, Martin said he will continue his protest until the mayor talks to him.