Midtown businesses want action on homeless issues
Some Anchorage business owners say they are fed up with people trespassing, panhandling and sleeping on the corners in Midtown Anchorage. It’s prompted the Midtown Community Council to write a resolution on how to handle homeless issues they want the mayor and police chief to read.
The resolution, which council members will vote on in August, proposes a number of things, from buying people plane tickets back to rural Alaska to establishing a permanent tent camp downtown near social services. It also encourages the police to be more responsive to the problem.
Midtown council member Albert Circosta has managed the Frontier Building on C Street for more than a dozen years and is on a first-name basis with many of the panhandlers who frequent the intersection of 36th Avenue and C Street. He said recently the problems associated with homelessness have gotten worse.
“The same job to keep the same building at the same occupancy rate has become quite a challenge because my daily focus is often on security and vagrancy and these type of issues,” Circosta said.
He said he is spending a lot more on security; cleaning up after people who have left guns, drugs and human feces on his property. When people block the sidewalks out front, he calls police, but said there seems to be little they can do.
“If they are in the middle of the sidewalk, they can ask them to move,” said Circosta. “And you will go through the energy of a $50, $30, $20 call-out on security. You’ll have the police here, they’ll fix it for 20 minutes. Thirty minutes later, they're back.”
Anchorage Police Department Lt. Jack Carson said police are enforcing the laws including writing citations for illegal panhandling. But he said many of the so-called nuisance crimes are simply violations that APD can’t arrest people for.
“With a citation, we can’t physically remove them,” said Carson. “If they are in the roadway and things like that we will make sure we will guide them off the road so they aren’t currently in violation. And then we will write a citation. [...] But we don’t stand there and stand guard all day and we aren’t physically making an arrest, it is just a violation.”
The lieutenant added that police don’t have the power to initiate an arrest for trespassing on private property, which he said must come from the property owner who must agree to press charges. In Midtown, the problem is compounded by the fact that many of the streets are state roads. Carson said that makes it difficult for the municipality to take enforcement action on state right-of-ways.
Carson said he has sympathy for business owners who feel frustrated and realizes that trying nature of nuisance crimes can prompt emotional responses.
“But when we show up, what we have to do is we have to separate the emotion and look at people’s constitutional rights — both on the homeless and the business owner — and try to find the balance in between and take enforcement.”
Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.
MORE NEWS FROM KTVA: