Camps must go
One need only read headlines such as “Homeless camps put Alaska creek cleanup future in question” to realize how bad things have gotten in this city.
The story, the Anchorage Daily News reports, is that the Anchorage Waterways Council wonders whether the makeshift homeless camps dotting Anchorage’s public spaces pose a threat to its volunteers, which include children, who annually clean up the city’s creeks.
The encampments often include human waste, trash of all kinds and discarded drug paraphernalia, such as needles.
That the camps pose a health and safety danger is unarguable. That they are, for the most part, illegally trespassing on public land also is unarguable. City law is quite clear. It is illegal, under 8.45.010 of the city code, to:
Knowingly enter or remain on undeveloped public or private property:
a. In violation of a prominently posted notice against trespass or use; or,
b. When the person has had other actual or constructive notice that the property is not open to the person; or,
c. After the person has been requested to leave by someone with the apparent authority to do so.
Then it gets complicated, courtesy of the oft-overturned, San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In a 2-1 ruling on April 1, a three-judge court panel denied a full court review of a September lower-court decision in an Idaho case that held prosecution of the homeless who have no other place to sleep is unconstitutional, the Idaho Statesman reported. The Boise ‘anti-camping” ordinance violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the judges said.
The Boise law barred sleeping on public property, except when shelters were filled to capacity, the newspaper reported. The appeals panel said, however, the homeless still could be turned away from shelters for other reasons, such as exceeding stay limits or failing to take part in homeless programs.
Circuit Judge Milan Smith, one of three judges who heard the arguments, dissented. He said the ruling could lead to courts overturning bans on defecating and urinating in public and he warned of tent cities blocking pedestrian traffic, the Statesman reported.
He also noted the 11th Circuit upheld an Orlando, Florida, ordinance prohibiting sleeping on public property.
The 9th Circuit’s decision prompted Olympia, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; San Francisco; and Sacramento, Calif., to quit enforcing their camping bans, Governing reports.
Despite the 9th Circuit’s opinion in the Boise case, Anchorage must do more to rid the city of homeless camps before disease breaks out or a campfire scorches vast tracts within the city. If it means going all the way up to the Supreme Court, the city should be ready, willing and able to do just that to return public lands to public use.
If not, if we surrender our parks and public lands without a fight, this city’s future is very much in doubt.