OPINION: Anchorage digs into couch cushions for camp cleanup
“Budgets reflect values” is a popular axiom of those who believe in government solutions to society’s problems, but whether that is true or not, budgets certainly reflect priorities.
In that respect, the Anchorage Assembly can hardly claim that addressing the city’s homeless crisis has been reflected in the budgets it has approved over the last several years.
The 2016 budget, for example, listed as a goal to “Eradicate homelessness and improve the health of the community.” The main source of funding that year was a one-time federal grant of about $425,000 from Housing and Urban Development.
In 2017, the “Eradicate homelessness” goal appeared again, this time funded by about $339,000 in HUD grants.
The 2018 municipal budget for homelessness initiatives was $500,000 between grants and matching funds.
For the 2019 budget, with the Assembly and Mayor Ethan Berkowitz lobbying hard for voters to approve a 5 percent alcohol tax, once again a mere half-million dollars was appropriated split between $350,000 for homeless initiatives and another $150,000 for illegal camp cleanups.
After voters rejected the tax and its supporting campaign of singling out a group of people and one industry as the most politically-expedient target for generating revenue, the Assembly has dug into the couch cushions to find another $355,000 to put toward homeless initiatives with $185,000 for the overflow shelter and an extra $150,000 for illegal camp cleanup.
With about $855,000 now earmarked this fiscal year for homeless initiatives and illegal camp abatement, that represents a whopping 0.16 percent of the municipal budget of some $526 million.
The total budget for illegal camp removal represents five one-hundredths of a percent of the budget.
A charitable view of the budget would be that the municipality simply lacks the resources to deal with the homeless crisis absent a new source of revenue.
A cynical view would be that the municipal government is using its failure to deal with illegal campsites as leverage over the taxpayers to compel them into voting for higher taxes.
Much like the deteriorating homeless situations in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Anchorage greenbelts did not turn into Sherwood Forest overnight. Busy intersections littered by trash and the occasional piece of furniture did not spring out of thin air.
Rather, the cruelty of compassion and misguided tolerance over many years has allowed this takeover of our public spaces at the expense of safety and the rights of the law-abiding to freely enjoy a city with another stated goal to be the best place to live in America by 2025.
Instead, we have resources being dedicated to creating a 106-page “climate action plan” that won’t make a speck of difference in global temperatures even if the municipality took its carbon footprint to zero.
Also coming down the pike this fall is the implementation of the plastic bag ban in another all-time great example of virtue signaling with no discernable benefit.
If the plastic crusaders were truly concerned about waste entering our oceans, they would make it a priority to address the mountains of trash along the greenbelts of Anchorage creeks that flow into Cook Inlet and eventually the Pacific Ocean.
If the mayor and Assembly want money for a new shelter, they should put it on the ballot along with all their other capital projects like schools or fire stations. If they want people to trust them with up to $15 million per year in new revenue, they should put a sunset clause on it as an incentive — and a promise — to deliver results.
But what they should stop doing is pretending they are doing everything they can when the budgets they approve say something far different.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].