Judge: Alaska homeless camp raids unconstitutional

Anchorage's policy for raiding homeless camps is unconstitutional, an Alaska judge has ruled.

Anchorage's policy for raiding homeless camps is unconstitutional, an Alaska judge has ruled.

Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner issued his ruling late Tuesday in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska.

The ACLU argued homeless people have the same rights as everyone else and the raids violated their property rights.

The city passed an amended ordinance last June giving the homeless five days' notice to leave the camps. After that, property in the camps was to be seized and destroyed, the ACLU said.

Rindner found that giving the homeless five days' notice was not sufficient, especially if their belongings were being destroyed. The judge pointed out that the city will hold an abandoned vehicle for at least 20 days, and if no one comes forward it is held an additional 10 days before being auctioned.

A longer notice would provide the homeless, including those who are chronic inebriates and mentally ill, time to "gather their belongings and find another place to live, either through the help of social service agencies or independently," Rindner said.

More than 20 people have been found dead outside in Anchorage in the past couple of years. Most were homeless or without a permanent place to live. The deaths prompted the mayor to form a team to work on the problem.

A call to Mayor Dan Sullivan's spokeswoman Wednesday was not immediately returned.

The ordinance was passed in 2009 and was revised, extending the notice from 12 hours to five days and making other changes, but the raids were stopped by court order in summer 2010.

The ACLU maintains 15 days' notice would be better. If the period is shorter, then the ordinance must provide for storage of personal belongings, said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Dale Engle, a disabled Vietnam War veteran who has been homeless for decades, and other homeless people in Anchorage.

Engle, 53, said he has had his tent and sleeping bag confiscated in raids, as well as a dozen Army medals and ribbons that he kept in a suitcase. He got back six medals, but a purple heart and two silver clusters were incinerated, he said.

"I worked hard for those ribbons, blood, sweat and guts," said Engle, who lived in a tent just outside the city for a year and a half before recently moving indoors with roommates. "They were given to me very honorably."

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