I am one of several advocates who originally organized a civil disobedience protest in July in opposition to the Dunleavy budget cuts and what that meant to the homeless population in Anchorage. From that protest, a movement was born, Camp Done-leavy, which then became Camp Here: Occupy to Overcome Homelessness. In addition, the focus then grew to include not only the state budget cuts but also the municipality of Anchorage and the growing hostility from the Berkowitz administration towards individuals and families experiencing homelessness.
On July 20, possibly 50 plus police cars showed up to the Valley of the Moon park where the campers settled after three arduous moves in one day from the Park Strip--each time being chased out by APD. Anchorage has a history of ineffective and cruel policies towards individuals experiencing homelessness.
Although the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) argued and won that individuals experiencing homelessness have the same rights as everyone else and camp raids violate property rights, many individuals still lose vital personal items and identification or have them confiscated in the current abatement process. Replacing those items is costly and navigating through complicated bureaucracy is dehumanizing. Without ID people are prevented from accessing necessary services, employment, and permanent housing. Continual abatements actively disrupt the efforts of people to transition out of homelessness.
Years of research and advocacy around the criminalization of homelessness and increasing violence committed against people experiencing homelessness has shown that added protections are needed to preserve their civil rights. Camp abatement policies remain cruel and traumatizing as individuals who are experiencing homelessness are relentlessly forced to migrate throughout the city.
Camp abatement ordinances are not meaningful solutions. Instead, they create a vicious cycle that harms people. Nothing is accomplished except the illusion of a solution that temporarily appeases the housed community and business owners.
In response, individuals who are experiencing homelessness are working with other community members to adopt a Homeless Bill of Rights and a Right to Rest Act. These rights insist that individuals experiencing homelessness are protected against segregation, granted privacy, guaranteed opportunity to vote and to feel safe in their community, provided with broad access to shelter including permanent encampments, social services, legal counsel and quality education for children of homeless families. People need protection and time to help engage productively with solutions. As a society, we have a moral imperative to protect the civil and human rights of every American. The time is now to adopt a Homeless Bill of Rights and a Right to Rest Act.
Justina Beagnyam is a Tri-Chair/Organizer for the Poor People’s Campaign and social justice advocate. Dana Dardis is an Anchorage resident, Advocate, and Small Business Owner. Rev. Jacob Poindexter, Sr. Minister, First Congregational Church of Anchorage.
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