Earlier today, a group of state legislators sent a letter to Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Anchorage Police Chief Justin Doll criticizing the municipality’s handling of homeless living site abatements.
ACLU of Alaska Executive Director Joshua A. Decker today released the following statement in response.
"It is unfortunate to hear elected leaders express such callous indifference towards people experiencing homelessness in Anchorage. Expelling people experiencing homelessness from Anchorage’s inhabited areas to Chugach State Park is not only unconstitutional, it is horribly inhumane and un-Alaskan.
'Telling indigent people who lack the resources to properly equip themselves for extended outdoor winter living to hike into the mountains and live there, away from food, clothing, medical and other services would be nothing short of a death sentence for many of Anchorage’s poorest residents.
"The ACLU of Alaska stands by our public statement of December 19, 2017 stating that we are committed to giving the Municipality of Anchorage time to address the homelessness issue in a productive manner before we consider legal remedies. While progress has been incremental, we commend the Berkowitz Administration and the Anchorage Assembly for their earnest efforts to find and fund solutions that provide housing and services for the homeless population.
"Cloaking a mass forced relocation plan - as this seems to be - in the language of case law and constitution is a cynical mischaracterization of the very system that protects our individual rights to life and liberty. This letter has no force of law but will only stoke fear in a population that already disproportionately experiences crime. If homeless people believe APD officers will force them into the wilderness, they will be less willing to seek help when they need it - which will make them even more vulnerable to victimization.
"The ACLU of Alaska is deeply concerned, however, by the continuing efforts of some to criminalize poverty both in the law and in the minds of Anchorage residents. We remain committed to standing up for the rights of people experiencing homeless. That will not change.
"We implore Rep. Fields and his colleagues to relocate their humanity and commit to finding legal and compassionate solutions to Anchorage’s homelessness issues."