Homeless population puts heavy burden on Parks and Rec

Thursday, November 30, 2017 - 14:52

The Municipality of Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department is drowning in garbage.

The department is shouldering a heavy burden due to what director John Rodda thinks is a growing homelssness problem in the city.

“It’s very widespread,” Rodda told the Eagle River/Chugiak Parks and Recreation Board of Supervisors on Monday, Nov. 13.

Although camps aren’t much of a problem in Chugiak-Eagle River, they are an ever-present nuisance for department employees. Cleaning up homeless camps falls mainly on Rodda’s department, and it’s a task that’s been taking up more and more time. He cited statistics showing a big uptick in the amount of trash and debris hauled away from various camps: In 2015, the department removed 55 tons of material — a figure that jumped to 139 tons in 2016.

The numbers are even higher this year.

“We right now have exceeded 160 tons as of a week ago,” he said.

Rodda said those numbers are due to a combination of more aggressive clean-up efforts backed by City Hall and what appears to be an increasing homeless population in the municipality.

“It’s growing,” he said.

It’s not one specific area of town, either. He said camps pop up everywhere from Northeast Anchorage to the Southside — Davis Park, Valley of the Moon Park, Third Avenue, the Chester Creek greenbelt…

“There’s no exempt area of the city,” he said.

Moving homeless people to a different spot and cleaning up the camps doesn’t seem to be working, he said.

“Some of them don’t want to go and they just move down the trail,” he said.

The issue is taking up a significant amount of resources, he said.

“It sure consumes a lot of time,” he said.

It’s also becoming a safety issue. Once people are told to vacate a camp, they have 15 days to leave. But the constant shuffling of the population is causing a safety concern for municipal employees.

“We have moved these people so many times they are pushing back,” he said.

Rodda isn’t in charge of solving the homeless problem — just cleaning up the mess. But, he said, it’s clear something needs to be done to address the underlying issues driving the problems faced by his department.

“Somehow we’re going to have to address the illegal activity,” he said.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at editor@alaskastar.com

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