Homeless camps taking over Anchorage neighborhoods
While Anchorage works on finding ways to help the homeless, residents of one neighborhood are dealing with the cost of homelessness in their back yards every day.
During a walk with four people who live along Chester Creek Park, a KTVA crew saw more than 20 camps in the first mile -- some just a few steps away from area homes.
Neighbors say it’s a problem that needs to be fixed, fast.
“It’s a crisis where we live,” said Barbara, a neighbor who lives on Eagle Street.
According to Barbara, dealing with the camps is a task that's taking over people's lives.
“What they are doing is using our neighborhood, literally our back yard, as an unofficial campground,” said Barbara. “There is sewage on the ground and there is needles and all of this trash; it’s a health hazard for them and it’s a health hazard for us, and it’s illegal.”
A few steps behind neighbor Tom Morrison’s house, burned tree trunks mark fires from the camps, some of which use propane tanks to fuel appliances.
“You look through all these camps and there’s a lot of fires,” said Barbara. “These flames are shooting way up into the treetops.”
Five minutes into the walk, neighbors had to call 911 for a fire in a camp -- something they’ve done many times before, including for a fire Morrison witnessed in April.
“I was lucky I was here,” Morrison said. “It came within 20 feet of my shed -- if it would have caught the shed on fire, my propane and my gas tanks, it probably would have jumped to my house too. There was ammunition going off in the fire, too.”
The community isn’t just worried about the fires. Crime is also keeping locals up at night.
“What we are seeing, though, a big increase in criminal encampment,"
“These are encampments where there’s a lot of people working there," said neighbor Mark Butler. "They’re engaged in chopping up bikes, stealing stuff, stealing propane tanks, things from (the) neighborhood here.”
We saw many bike chop shops along the trail, where people take bikes and sell them for parts. One of the chop shops was the size of a house.
“It’s a very large camp, and it seems to be a very big chop shop for a lot of the bicycles that get stolen,” said Barbara. “This one, it still remains; it's been here at least six months, probably a lot longer.”
These days, neighbors are taking things into their own hands -- going tent to tent, telling the campers to leave.
“Man, this is a park, not a place to sleep," Butler said, speaking to one camper. "We’re going to report it; I suggest you get out pretty soon, get out of here.”
Now is the time, some locals say, for the city to do something.
“We need to get beyond our horror stories because everyone has them,” said neighbor Linda Chase. “We have to get beyond sharing these ridiculous situations and we have to move into action.”
Nancy Burke, the city’s housing and homeless coordinator, said Chester Creek Park has been a big focus this summer.
“We did a big sweep of the entire trail area,” Burke said. “However, camps do move around, so even when one process had been completed new ones might have moved in."
Resources are a key factor in how the muni handles the problem, Burke said.
"We don’t have enough resources to address every camp in every location," Burke said. "We are trying to make the best use and the most effective use of the resources we have.”
After years of fearing for their safety, being on edge 24/7 and cleaning up after the uninvited guests to their neighborhood, you'd think these neighbors would want the problem to just go away. You’d be wrong.
“We have compassion for the homeless people. They need a place to be,” Barbara said. "When did it become OK for us to say it’s OK for them to live in their own filth, and that’s OK? They deserve better than that -- we deserve better than that, and we need to be better at fixing the situation.”
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