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Anchorage tosses RVers from campground to move in homeless

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Full-timing RVer and RVtravel.com reader David J. was staying at Centennial Campground in Anchorage, Alaska, last month. He noticed there seemed to be a lot of outgoing RVers, but as he and his wife were away visiting family often during the day, he didn’t pay much attention. Then they learned the reason: The campground’s owner, the City of Anchorage, had canceled all reservations.

The reason? City officials were turning the campground into a homeless encampment. “Since we were already on-site for our two-week stay,” relates David, “they didn’t kick us out, but offered a refund. We didn’t feel threatened at all, so we opted to stay.” In the end, David and his wife were the only “paying” customers left on-site until the end of their reservation period. What’s behind the city’s unusual move, and how will it impact RVers in the future?

Emergency shelter shuttered

homeless
Mikhail Siskoff on wikimedia..org.

Anchorage, like other big cities, has struggled with the problems of homelessness. Nearly two and a half years ago, during the heat of the coronavirus pandemic, the city opened its Sullivan Arena as an emergency shelter. At the peak of its use, the arena hosted 500 people, sleeping on cots on the main floor. Federal pandemic relief funds were used to cover the cost. Meanwhile, plans had already been in the works to establish more suitable permanent shelters.

homeless
Photo used under Creative Commons license courtesy Paxson Woelber, The Alaska Landmine

But in late May or early June, folks taking shelter were disturbed to see signs indicating the city would close Sullivan Arena at the end of June. By that time, the numbers staying at the arena had dropped to around 100. Many were staying in homeless encampments around Anchorage. Greenbelts and trails served as ersatz camps. But unusually dry conditions led to fires—over 200 fires broke out in or near the camps from April on.

With the arena closing, and fire danger, Anchorage’s mayor, Dave Bronson, made a sudden declaration: Close the homeless encampments. Since federal laws tell municipalities they can’t kick out homeless people without an alternative, Bronson’s alternative was to convert Centennial Park for use by the homeless. The 86-site campground suddenly saw buses dropping off folks carrying garbage bags full of their possessions. The city provided vouchers to some for tents. At a recent count, at least 180 people are crowded into Centennial.

Major challenge an understatement

Turning a municipal campground that normally hosts folks who use self-contained RVs into something suitable for people living in tents has proved a major challenge. Toilets in the campground’s two bathrooms were said to be overflowing. Mental health issues among some led to problems; sadly no arrangements are in place to handle them. On a more down-to-earth level, the nearest food seller is a 20-minute hike away from the campground. For those with physical disabilities, it may as well be on the moon.

Feeding a mass of people in a wide-open area of Alaska presents its own problems. While the city brought in food-lockers, bears have been attracted to the smell of food. Last week, a sow and three cubs showed up at the campground and began ransacking tents. Fish and Wildlife crews were dispatched—and the bears were dispatched, terminally. A nonprofit has now brought in a food truck, serving three meals a day at Centennial. They hope their provisions will prevent campers from improperly storing food, and reduce bear encounters.

Mayor Bronson originally declared folks could stay at Centennial for two weeks. The situation is still ongoing. City Assembly members are up in arms. There had already been acrimony between the mayor and the Assembly, but now the situation is even more tenuous.

When can RVers go back to Centennial?

homeless
Click to enlarge

What does the situation hold for RVers looking to get back into Centennial? The park’s official season closer is September. With the homeless situation in place, and no clear end date in sight, it could be that there won’t be any opportunity for the RVing public to get back into Centennial in 2022. A look at the reservation system for Centennial shows a map of the campground. For every campsite, the “status” symbol is a question mark: Status unknown.

Sad to say, “status unknown” is an apt description for a lot of things in this old world. For RVers and homeless alike in Anchorage, when the chill winds of winter blow in, it’s a good time to be anywhere but in a campground at the foot of the Chugach Mountains. We’ll keep you up to speed on the situation as details become available.

Related

Is the rolling homeless problem affecting your RV lifestyle?

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Bob M
4 months ago

Politicians are not problem solvers. They take our hard earned money and give freebies to those who have no ambition in life and don’t want to work. Those in Pa who have the access /welfare card have better benefits than those who worked. Some have no choice, but others should be forced to work. The pandemic made things worst. I feel sorry for our veterans who served our country and our country let them down.

Sherryl Lynn
4 months ago
Reply to  Bob M

I agree, the Veterans should be helped first with tax dollars.

Jake
4 months ago

First — I’m so glad to see some compassion in the comments. Thank you for spreading love.

Through some volunteer work I fell into, I’ve learned there’s a lot of overlap in issues between homeless people and RVers, especially full-time RVers. Many homeless live in vehicles now. Anti-homeless laws target a lot of vehicle residents, and those laws trickle down to us RVers in terms of places we can overnight. This also trickles down into public land use. This unfortunately touches on why a lot of public lands are shut down, due to the overcrowding and trash/waste issues. Same with public parking lots (for those of us that Wal-dock during our travels).

Let’s all keep this overlap of needs and issues in mind as we vote on issues and elected officials that create policy!

DENNY JOHNSON
4 months ago

If they reopened as a campground, I wouldn’t go back for a year. Can you imagine the mess it will be? I can be empathetic, but always a realist.

chris
4 months ago

But isn’t Alaska a red state?

Akdave
4 months ago
Reply to  chris

Anchorage most definitely is not.

David Hagen
4 months ago

I guess if they have to close a campground in Alaska, the time to do it is when the Alaska Hiway is washed out and closed for the season.

Peter
4 months ago
Reply to  David Hagen

The ALCAN is not washed out! Part of the road in Denali Park is washed out and closed beyond that point.

Law
4 months ago
Reply to  David Hagen

+what hyway is washed out? I live here ND our roads are fine thank you

Bob_B
4 months ago

As President Ronald Reagan used to say, “The ten most frightening words in the English language are, ‘Hi, I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”

The article says that, “Meanwhile, plans had already been in the works to establish more suitable permanent shelters.” What’s the status of those plans?

Heather
4 months ago
Reply to  Bob_B

Local politicians are stymied in dealing with these problems if their hands are tied behind their backs with federal restrictions.

Guess they can do what other big cities do. Load ’em up on a bus at night & drop ’em off somewhere out-of-state.

Dave Bronbowski
4 months ago

Anchorage’s version of the Hunger Games

‘Deplorable,’ dangerous conditions at East Anchorage campground, homeless advocates say

https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/anchorage/2022/07/15/deplorable-dangerous-conditions-at-east-anchorage-campground-homeless-advocates-say/

KellyR
4 months ago

Damned if you do – Damned if you don’t. I had a mentor that would say, “It’s time to do SOMETHING…… even if it is wrong.” Doing NOTHING, get’s you nowhere – so sometimes you just have to take action.

Marie Beschen
4 months ago

It’s not that “campgrounds” per se are not “a solution”, it’s that THIS campground was not – 2 bathrooms for 180 ppl, no thoughts regarding food (and it’s storage/prep), any showers?? Over crowding in this type of condition leads the “best” of ppl to anger, let alone ppl who already have mental conditions. One more example of the “Government NOT thinking things through!”

Sue Winnie
4 months ago

I can’t imagine being homeless, especially in Alaska. The cold, my physical problems, my handicapped abilities and recently being widowed, I don’t know what I would do. It’s a hard life. Thank goodness the city stepped in. Now they to get the more services in and figure out winter housing.

Mike Schwab
4 months ago
Reply to  Sue Winnie

Bob Wells, founder of https://cheaprvliving.com/ , started living in his van in Anchorage in the winter. Ocean water is fairly moderating.

Rick
4 months ago

It’s turning Muldoon in to a crime vill my son’s bicycle was cut from a locked up fence we jumped in car an started looking Walmart first and then went to bumvill an found it of course they tried saying that it was theirs I grabbed it and the police did nothing

MattD
4 months ago
Reply to  Rick

Sorry you had to go through that Rick… People who won’t work for a living turn into thieves. Take what they can from those who are honest and hardworking. Take from the government all they can. Shameful.

Nanci
4 months ago

What a good idea! I am glad to give up my spot in a campground to shelter those who don’t have a rolling home on wheels. I can go elsewhere, easily find a different place to park. Those on foot, displaced and only sheltered by a tent or tarp can’t. It is too easy to point and say that the homeless are at fault for their lives. That they had a choice. Who among us would choose to be surviving in a homeless encampment?

John Irvine
4 months ago
Reply to  Nanci

Thank You.

MattD
4 months ago
Reply to  Nanci

Look up job opportunities in Anchorage…jus’ sayin’

Dr4Film
4 months ago
Reply to  MattD

WAY too many people have no desire to work these days. As I travel around, I have observed thousands of both large and small signs stating, “We Are Hiring”. Never used to see that only a few short years ago.

Steve
4 months ago
Reply to  Nanci

Well Said. Thank you.

Gary
4 months ago
Reply to  Nanci

And what happens when they trash this place too? I’ll bet that arena is a mess.
Just kicking the can down the road…

Last edited 4 months ago by Gary
suzanne Ferris
4 months ago
Reply to  Nanci

Thank you! If things could be solved simply with a job offer in the underpaid service industry we wouldn’t have foodbanks, high housing costs, and uninsured people foraging for all the above items. There is no way our kids can cope with this situation without a financial leg up.

WrkrBee
4 months ago
Reply to  suzanne Ferris

We’ve seen the news “report” from the foodbank. Up drives a Cadillac Escalade, big weaves and nails gets out, on a smart phone, saying how hard it is to make ends meet. The only job they have is working the government.

Last edited 4 months ago by WrkrBee