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Will Anchorage mayor lose fight over homeless sitting on city sidewalks?

Alaska Dispatch staff

Since Dec. 22, it has been illegal to sit or lie down on the concrete carpet in Alaska’s largest city. Anchorage's downtown sidewalks are exclusively no-lay, no-sit areas from 6 a.m. to midnight weekdays and to 2:30 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

The law was pushed by Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, a conservative who for months had been agitated by homeless protester John Martin. Perhaps the mayor didn't like passing Martin on the way to work as the dude made a sidewalk camp in front of City Hall.

The Anchorage Assembly backed the mayor with a 7-4 vote, even though there were quite a few residents who didn't think it was that big of a deal. It seems like Martin and homeless folks have gotten the message. Police have issued no citations, and Martin who is still occupying the sidewalk below Mayor Sullivan's office, moves along when told to. 

Now, however, two Anchorage Assembly members who voted for the ban -- Debbie Ossiander and Dick Traini -- want to revisit it.

On Tuesday, you're invited to comment. The hearing will cover an ordinance that could possibly repeal the no-sitting law and its associated fines. The 6 p.m. meeting will be at the Assembly's chambers of the Z.J. Loussac Library.

The Assembly plans to vote on whether to overturn the ordinance on Sept. 25. If it’s overturned, Sullivan could dust off his veto pen.

How it all began

Sullivan pushed for the law on the heels of his controversial dealings with Martin, the homeless protester who in summer 2011 began camping out in front of City Hall. He was doing so, he said, because God called on him to advocate for his homeless brethren. (And God knows, Anchorage has a homeless problem, even if some -- like a dead-tree columnist who wonders whether the homeless stole a shovel -- don't like how it impacts their urban lives.)

Last summer, Martin said he wanted to chat with the mayor and city to change some things, like recognizing that there are a number of homeless folks in "living" in Alaska's largest city.

He wanted the cops to stop razing homeless camps in the woods, which in the past made at least one journalist feel like a "bad person." Sullivan wanted the city to build a designated space for people to camp. He didn’t think the homeless should be forced into shelters or group homes.

It’s Alaska. People love their freedom here, Martin declared.

The homeless should be able to sleep outdoors if they choose to, he said. If not, they're going to find places downtown to sleep: doorsteps, stairwells and parking garages -- places where he spends his evenings.

Martin clearly got under mayor's skin. Sullivan refused to talk to Martin, which didn't help matters. The mayor said at the time that he didn’t have anything to talk to him about. Further, the mayor said he didn’t want Anchorage to turn into other cities, like San Francisco, where the homeless population is very visible.

For further questions, inquiries or information about Tuesday's hearing, visit the Anchorage Assembly's website here.