Two weeks into job, Anchorage’s new homelessness director is mum on plans

a couple people inside a large tent
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson (left) and Anchorage’s new homelessness coordinator Dave D’Amato speak with reporters inside the warming tent outside the Sullivan Arena shelter the morning of Nov. 19, 2021. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage’s new homelessness coordinator Dave D’Amato has been on the job for two weeks, but the city hasn’t answered questions about his experience or his vision for tackling one of the mayor’s most urgent priorities. 

The former health care lobbyist will lead a new division overseeing housing and homelessness in the Anchorage Health Department, according to a department spokesperson. That comes after the previous division manager was fired. 

D’Amato, 53, is controversial in homeless advocacy circles because he has argued on social media and public testimony for using private security guards to keep homeless people from camping in public places, and for increasing prosecution of minor crimes like trespassing. That’s a move advocates say would shift more homeless people into jails, burden the court system, and leave people with criminal records that make it harder for them to obtain permanent housing. 

D’Amato has was also a staunch critic of the Anchorage Assembly’s efforts to purchase several buildings last year to use as homeless shelters and a substance abuse treatment center. A similar plan was recently proposed by a working group of Assembly members and representatives from Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration. 

Members of that group say progress on purchasing new buildings for shelter has continued even as D’Amato has taken over a seat on the group. Chris Constant, one of the group members, declined to comment directly about D’Amato, but emphasized that new members should focus on listening rather than talking. 

“You’re new to the table; we’ve spent 800 hours working on it. It would be wise to get a basic understanding of where we are,” said Constant. 

D’Amato’s also been active in the conservative Save Anchorage Facebook group. Among his posts, first reported by liberal blog The Blue Alaskan, one calls for holding homeless people quote “responsible for some progress” to be eligible for public services. In another, he says that donating to nonprofits that provide services to homeless people is, quote “the worst possible thing to do with your money and for the community” because it perpetuates homelessness. He also used a profanity referencing an Assembly member’s weight in a post about the mask mandate. 

D’Amato declined to answer questions for this story. City officials would not release his resume until Alaska Public Media filed a public records request.

The resume says his previous experience in homelessness comes several years ago from work for United Way of Anchorage, where he worked in 2016 until 2017, leading a pay for success project which focused on reducing homeless peoples’ use of emergency services by providing them housing. He also was interim director for the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness for about six months in 2017. 

D’Amato’s resume also says he worked as a consultant for D’Amato Consulting since 2005. There is no website or business license for the company, according to state records. 

In 2010, he made Anchorage headlines for incurring a nearly $200,000 fine for wetland permit violations on his hillside property. In 2018 he appeared in Juneau headlines for his involvement in a property dispute as a power of attorney for one of the owners. The property, the Bergmann Hotel, had become a hotspot for crime, and was the frequent site of police calls before it was vacated, leaving tenants homeless. 

D’Amato has appeared in official city meetings on housing and homelessness since he took the job, and made a brief appearance for the media at the opening of a warming tent outside the Sullivan Arena, the city’s main shelter late last month. Advocates had criticized the city for being slow in setting up the warming tent, which opened days into a cold snap that gripped Anchorage. 

At that event, D’Amato hinted at plans to change the Sullivan, but didn’t elaborate. 

“You’re going to see a lot of good stuff happening in the next few weeks, so we’ll continue to work that and keep your eyes peeled,” he said. 

D’Amato has recently taken credit for work in reducing homelessness and crime in Juneau, including during his testimony in front of the Anchorage Assembly last year.

“Homeless people had taken over a neighborhood,” he said, “and it was overrun with crime addicts, homeless folks, this sort of thing. We went down there, myself, and another group of sort of committed folks. And what we did is in two years, two and a half years, we took the crime in that neighborhood … we got rid of it. We did some spectacular stuff down there.”

D’Amato’s resume does not list any work experience related to homelessness in Juneau. He recently applied for city funds to help with a renovation project on the Bergmann that would help convert it into worker housing, but that application was denied by a Juneau housing committee, which cited an incomplete application. 

D’Amato’s job as the a division manager for the city’s health department doesn’t require Assembly confirmation. 

Clarification: An earlier version of this story referred to D’Amato as a lawyer. His resume says he attended law school, worked at a law firm and “appeared at over one thousand criminal hearings for disadvantaged Alaskans,” but he is not listed in the Alaska Bar Association directory. He did not respond to a request to clarify.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said a Freedom of Information Act request was filed for D’Amato’s resume. It was made under state public records law.

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Lex Treinen covers culture, homelessness, politics and corrections for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at ltreinen@alaskapublic.org.

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