New Camp Abatement Receives ACLU and Assembly Backing

Months of legal battling between the municipality of Anchorage and the Alaska office of the American Civil Liberties Union has come to an end. This week the Anchorage Assembly unanimously approved an illegal camp seizure ordinance acceptable to the ACLU and the courts. KSKA’s Len Anderson reports.

The official resolution at took less than four minutes of the Anchorage Assembly’s regular session. It concluded a legal disagreement that began last April when the ACLU filed a suit saying the city’s new ordinance directed against illegal campsites was unconstitutional. The suit stemmed from the experience of camper Dale Engle, when the city seized and then destroyed his personal belongings, including documentation of his military service and discharge. The ACLU said the municipality had not given sufficient time of the seizure possibility nor did the city protect – in other words, store – his property once they had taken it.

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The court agreed with the ACLU. And when the city tried with another ordinance with a slightly longer notice but still no protection of property seized, the ACLU continued its suit and won again.

Before the assembly vote, Liberties Union attorney, Jeffery Mittman said this week’s approved version removed the ACLU’s concerns.

Under the ordinance, the municipality can give three days notice before removing a campsite and taking the property, which would be stored for 30 days. Or they can give 15 days notice and immediately destroy any property not taken.

The assembly also approved 250 thousand dollars to renovate a warehouse to store campers’ property.

Besides Mittman two others spoke at the public hearing.

Ronald Jordan with Taku Community Council said a full scale campaign threatening to seize campers’ personal belongings was likely to produce little more than migrations from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Assembly member Pat Flynn represents downtown and adjacent neighborhoods. It’s a district where several such camps have long existed. He responded to Jordan by saying he’s aware that this ordinance is only a partial response to the problem of the homeless suffering from chronic inebriation and substance abuse.

The 95 thousand dollars refers to the legal expenses stemming from the municipality’s unsuccessful battle with the ACLU over the constitutionality of earlier ordinance attempts.

The illegal campsite and seizure ordinance takes effect immediately.

Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler said in a Friday phone conversation, that the mayor would like to begin enforcement as soon as possible. With the storage facility not ready yet, that would mean the city would use the 15 day notification option. Wheeler said even that would require advance preparation, specifically planning time for the various agencies and organizations that could offer campers advice and assistance with their personal problems.