The number of homeless people in Anchorage appears to have gone up by more than 200 people since last year.

Anchorage Housing and Homeless Services Coordinator Nancy Burke released the numbers Wednesday from a week-long count conducted in the third week of August. The total number of homeless people found in camps, on the streets and in shelters was 1,272 compared to 1,064 in 2018.

Burke said the increase was not a complete surprise, especially given the count was taken after wide-ranging state budget cuts were announced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

“The period we did the count was over the time when some resources were missing from people’s, you know, from their money and things they needed to stay stable,” Burke said. “And then additionally, we told people that the shelter was at risk of reducing to 100 people. So the main Brother Francis Shelter would go from 240 to 100, so we saw more people transition out into the community is my belief.”

The survey broke down the numbers even more. It showed an increase in people using shelters in 2019, counted at 778, compared to 2018, counted at 651. It also showed a big increase in the number of people camping in the woods, from 102 in 2018 to 208 in 2019.

Workers cleaning up homeless camps removed over 400 tons of garbage this summer, according to Anchorage Parks and Recreation Superintendent Josh Durand. But Burke said the effort did little to steer people into shelters.

Burke estimated less than 10% of those in camps moved into shelters following a zone abatement. She said the other 90% most likely moved into a new zone.  Burke called that number neither fast nor satisfying, but said it showed a need to continue developing new options.

“They say the congestion and their concerns with safety at shelter are reasons why they are not going,” she said. “Which is why we are trying to move people directly from camp into housing, you know, to increase options for moving people out of those camp locations.”

Burke said camp cleanup is coming to an end for the winter. The last day for workers who do the seasonal work is Thursday.

She added that local shelters are full so there aren’t many places for people to go. The city recently signed an agreement with Bean’s Cafe to allow it to become an emergency shelter for the winter, but Burke said the agreement doesn’t take effect until mid-November.

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