For Immediate Release: December 19, 2017

Contact: Casey Reynolds, ACLU of Alaska, (907) 263-2015, creynolds@acluak.org

Anchorage, AK — The ACLU of Alaska today released its response to the Anchorage Assembly passing AO 2017-130, which attempted to reduce the amount of notice the city must give before it can seize and destroy private property under its nuisance abatement code from the current 15 days, to a new standard of 10 days. The stated purpose of the sponsors of the ordinance is to target people experiencing homelessness and their property.

This issue was the subject of successful litigation by the ACLU of Alaska against the Municipality of Anchorage in 2010.

The following is a statement from the ACLU of Alaska’s Executive Director Joshua A. Decker:

“While we believe there is a strong case to made that this new code is both structurally flawed and violates the Constitution’s guarantee of due process, the ACLU of Alaska has decided not to pursue legal action at this time.

“The ACLU of Alaska’s primary concern with these types of ordinances is that they are a shortsighted public policy of dealing with people experiencing homelessness by criminalizing their poverty rather than by fulfilling society’s responsibility to care for them. Our staff, however, has for months been attending the Anchorage Assembly’s Homelessness Committee meetings and noticed that the current Anchorage Mayor and Assembly have otherwise been pursuing a positive agenda to address homelessness.

“Over the past two years the city has added a Housing and Homeless Services Coordinator to the Mayor’s office, helped to expand the capacity of non-profits to provide cold weather shelter options, streamlined the process for referrals to housing, increased funding for the adult homeless safety net through a federal demonstration grant award, and have achieved a goal of assisting a minimum of 100 people each year into safe housing.  Because of these municipal efforts to coordinate resources, there is a single community homeless priority list, increased coordination for outreach and mobile case management and data being collected to monitor progress of these efforts.  Municipal investment has also been provided for the first time through an initial allocation of $425,000 in 2016 to help identify and connect people experiencing homelessness with services and housing.

“Additionally, the Assembly, at our request, added to its new nuisance abatement ordinance a sunset provision, an acknowledgment that the Municipality is not doing enough to fully meet the needs of Anchorage’s homeless population, and preserved a $500,000 budget allocation aimed at homeless services, defeating several efforts to divert the money for other purposes—including cracking down on people experiencing homelessness themselves.

“Therefore, because of this positive movement by the Mayor and the Assembly, we have decided to delay any legal action on the shortened nuisance abatement period until we review Mayor Berkowitz’s homelessness targets and timelines, which are due out in January. If we believe those goals and timeliness are meaningful and achievable, we are prepared to further delay legal action so long as those goals are being met.

“We want to be perfectly clear, if either Anchorage or any other local government watching their actions decide to crackdown on those in need instead of offering support and services, they will see us in court. If, however, those leaders want to pursue just and humane policies, we hope our decision here demonstrates the ACLU of Alaska stands ready to work with them to do just that.”

The American Civil Liberties Union is our nation’s guardian of liberty. For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been at the forefront of virtually every major battle for civil liberties and equal justice in this country. Principled and nonpartisan, the ACLU works in the courts, legislatures, and communities to preserve and expand the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States. The ACLU of Alaska, founded in 1971, is one of the 53 state ACLU affiliates that strive to make the Bill of Rights real for everyone and to uphold the promise of the Constitution—because freedom can’t protect itself.

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