They can be dangerous and dirty, but for too many in Anchorage, homeless camps are the only option.
A day after municipal leaders praised their progress with a 10-year plan to reduce Anchorage’s homeless population, the Anchorage Police Department’s Community Action Policing team offered an inside look at the work that still needs to be done.
As the weather in Anchorage warms up, police said more and more homeless camps are popping up.
“This is a wildlife area, this is a green belt and they’re leaving garbage and fecal matter in the area and it’s just not good for our land,” said senior officer Will Cameron.
Cameron, along with senior officer Nathan Mitchell is a member of the CAP team - a group of just 4 officers tasked with taking down all of the homeless camps in Anchorage, one tent or teepee at a time.
“Instead of coming out and being the big bad cops arresting people, we try to come out and connect them with resources to see if they can help themselves,” Cameron said.
But telling people with little to lose that they need to pack up what they have and move isn’t always a walk in the park.
“It’s dangerous, even for the police to come in,” Cameron said. “We don’t like contacting people that have knives and hatchets and axes.”
Aside from items that could be used as weapons, another serious concern is open burning. Mitchell said that was made apparent Thursday by a pile of smoldering ashes sitting just a few feet away from an area in the woods that burned down due to an open burn at another homeless camp.
“This stuff lights up and burns real quick,” Cameron said. “The next thing you know, you’ve got a forest fire going on.”
The CAP team said the municipality’s 10-year plan to end homelessness, now in its ninth year, has been working.
“There were a lot more than there is now, I would say probably a couple hundred camps,” Cameron said. “Now, I would say there are 20-25 hardcore groups of people that just don’t want to change.”
But they said more must be done to address Anchorage’s homeless population.
“We all have to work together on this program and this problem to find a solution and a resource,” Cameron said.
Until that happens, officers said they’ll continue combing Anchorage’s woods in search of the souls they said have fallen — hard — through the cracks.
Officers said it is never a good idea for the public to approach a homeless camp. Instead, they said people should take down the location and details of a camp and alert police.