City reassesses homeless services after alcohol tax fails
The city is looking for ways to move forward now that Anchorage voters have turned down an alcohol tax that would have helped finance homeless services.
Anchorage homeless coordinator Nancy Burke said the city will do the best it can with the money it has, although she predicted some people won't be happy. She said cleaning up camps and trying to refer residents to shelter and housing programs will look a lot like it did last summer.
"I think we will do a good job keeping up with the high-volume areas. We will do a good job, you know, tightening up our timelines and storing belongings," Burke said. "And this year we've got a jump start on our zone process. We won't be able to respond to everything and that will be frustrating for a lot of people in the community."
Burke said camp clean-up will begin in earnest on May 1. Larger camps will be prioritized over smaller ones, particularly camps that are impacting neighborhoods or are located close to churches or schools. She said they would get to other locations "as quickly as we can."
One person who does not want to see the status quo repeated is Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. Berkowitz is frustrated with the liquor industry, which successfully led a campaign to defeat the 5% alcohol tax he supported placing before voters this year. He thinks those same companies should be part of the solution.
"The liquor industry spent a lot of money weighing in on its side of the debate," he said. "Now I'm going to ask the liquor industry to weigh in and help solve the problem."
Berkowitz said he intends to ask the liquor industry to make voluntary cash contributions that could go toward services like housing, camp clean-up and expanding the Community Service Patrol. He plans to meet with representatives from Alaska CHARR — the Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association — in the near future. But he doesn't think national wholesalers should be off the hook.
"It's those big outside guys that threw their money in that don't have Anchorage's best interests at heart," he said. "And they aren't members of the community and yet they create a problem here and collect profits from it. That, I think, is fundamentally unfair."
A call to Alaska CHARR seeking comment wasn't immediately returned Monday.
The mayor said he planned to reach out to Anheuser-Busch to see if the company would be willing to contribute toward paying for homeless services.
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