Alaska ACLU to Mayor Berkowitz: Stop kicking people out of homeless camps
ANCHORAGE — One could call it a strongly worded letter. The Alaska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote Mayor Ethan Berkowitz Wednesday morning to ask him to stop evicting people from homeless camps.
“When the shelters don’t have any space, it makes no sense,” said Joshua Decker, the executive director of the ACLU’s Alaska office. “It does no one any good to kick people out of one location only to have them move to someplace else.”
The Brother Francis Shelter confirmed they have been at capacity several times a week. Project manager Robin Dempsey said the shelter’s property has also seen more people since camp evictions started earlier this summer.
The ACLU argued kicking people out of the camps could be considered unconstitutional, citing the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Court of Appeals.
“It may be unconstitutional to ban people from sitting, lying or sleeping in public spaces when cities lack enough shelter space,” the group said in the letter.
The organization acknowledged Berkowitz’s efforts to improve the lives of homeless in the municipality. However, it said some of his long-term solutions, like providing housing vouchers, are not working fast enough to keep up with the homeless problem.
“It takes a long time to get these solutions standing up,” Decker said. “Wait until those are up and going before you start evicting people.”
Berkowitz said he struggled to take the letter seriously.
“As someone who was trained as a lawyer, I don’t take what they said as a legal matter seriously at all,” Berkowitz said. “I don’t think there’s a good factual base for their assertions and I don’t think they have any legal ground to stand on.”
He said the ACLU helped come up with the process of cleaning up homeless camps in the first place. However, the ACLU said it did not author the protocol for clearing camps. Instead, it said a 2010 lawsuit forced the municipality to give people living in camps 15 days’ notice before being evicted.
You can read the entire letter here.
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