Hank Wentz speaking at Camp Dunleavy protests on the Park Strip.

By Natives for Sobriety by Hank Wentz

Camp Dunleavy was created at the Downtown Park Strip near the beginning of July. It was created by the homeless, of course. There have been many, many, many Anchorage entities, assembly members, community members, property owners, news outlets, rallying around the crowd and embracing the new term “Houseless.”

This drew out the most vulnerable, neglected, overseen, forgotten, frustrated, hurt, broken people of the community overlooked and demonized every day — the Alaskan Native. They finally felt safe to be in a place together, and Community Service Patrol, as well as the Anchorage Police swept through. They tried their best to keep it clean, but some flowers got beat up. I had no way to be involved daily, but got to speak briefly.

Several members of the Homeless Resource Advisory Council, comprised of experienced homeless or currently homeless; have been at Camp Dunleavy since day one; Johnathon and Holly Cannon (celebrating their honeymoon fighting this cause), Ptery Lieght, Ryan Francis. This group of dedicated members and I have met monthly at Loussac Library for our group meetings, which are open for outside meetings the first Thursday of each month at 3 p.m. We are allied with the Anchorage Coalition to end Homelessness. Unfortunately, the camp had to move. Sigh. The trauma of moving camp again, unwanted, and the stigma and self-loathing that comes with it.

Where to move? where to move? Where?

The homeless are run off everywhere, and this group comprised elders — Natives who don’t ask those questions because they have been so disappointed in the broken system before that now just got a whole lot worse. People do not realize how anxious they are, how beaten down they have been, the avoidance. They do not know what kind of trauma they suffer. That is why it is so important for me to give them definitions and spell it out for them. They get overwhelmed so easily with stigmas. Why? They have no choices as it is, no money to afford anything, and many times go hungry while people in society demonize them. Society blames them for making ‘poor choices’, and assume Natives are rich and get everything handed to them on a silver platter via Native corporations when it’s just not so.

Spat on, forgotten, left out, let down, abused — how do they help themselves? How can they? So many barriers such as broken job histories, barrier crimes such as assault or theft, no address, no phone, and if you are not lucky, no tent. Life isn’t easy for the homeless, and don’t forget, Alaskan Natives have the highest rate of suicide in the country, highest substance abuse, highest sexual assaults, highest prison incarcerations, highest in mental health issues, highest fetal alcohol disease, poorest education, high unemployment, high domestic violence, highest in child custody cases, highest percentage in homelessness, highest…you get the point. And Dunleavy’s cuts are directed RIGHT AT THEM. Cut the programs, and the hardest hit will be out in the villages with the overcrowding in houses.

As in Anchorage, the goodwill of the bourgeois class will only go so far, so get ready for a flood of broken people on your streets, because who wants to live in a 3-bedroom house with up to 18 people?

I believe the 800 more people about ready to hit the streets when Brother Francis Shelter closes temporarily on Thursday is really a low-ball figure. Not taken into account in that figure are people who hid from any and all entities dealing with the homeless, because they just hide — just like I used to. Take into account all the people coming out of incarceration, halfway houses, those working seasonal cannery jobs, staying at the youth hostels, living in cars, couch surfing, prostitutes working corners, addicts, and on and on and on — the underbelly.

The Alaska middle class is the new Native, and will be treated just like the homeless Native in Dunleavy’s Alaska. Too bad that alcohol tax in Anchorage didn’t pass — would have provided a little cushion, because a lot of people are going to drink, even more than usual. Drinking always happens, but apparently in this state, we don’t want to tax special interests — we prefer to create victims and profit the few.

Camp Dunleavy moved to Valley of the Moon and as soon as the homeless were setting up. The cops showed up, about 50 of them.

I get anxious, I can only imagine how my fellow travelers felt. They have to camp in the trees. Darkness invites unwanted things; won’t even turn on a flashlight for their safety, so they sleep on roots. They try to police themselves. I told them to be careful to not let those addicts in who try to take over the camp by demanding and pilfering. I told them to call CSP if they have intoxicated persons among them.

It is not safe in the woods. Now we’ve driven them there. The 800 people — though I think the number is twice that — headed to the streets and the woods have to go somewhere.

You can’t wish them away. You can’t wish them out of sight and if you have a shred of humanity, don’t you dare try to wish them out of mind.

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