ANCHORAGE – On Friday, the ACLU of Alaska filed appeals in Alaska Superior Court on behalf of houseless Alaskans who were unconstitutionally removed from Cuddy Park last week. Filing this legal action is the next step in the appeals process and comes amid continued failure to adequately address Anchorage’s crisis with homelessness.
“Hundreds of people in Anchorage have nowhere to go because the municipality closed its only low barrier shelter at Sullivan Arena without finding any alternatives,” said ACLU of Alaska Legal Director Ruth Botstein. “The affected people have the right to appeal the city’s abatement action as violating the ban on cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 12 of the Alaska Constitution.”
Federal courts have held that the cruel and unusual punishment clause prohibits cities from punishing unhoused individuals for existing, sleeping, or camping in public spaces when there are not sufficient indoor shelter options available. Despite being aware of the law and knowing that there are no available low-barrier shelter beds in Anchorage, the city chose to go ahead with clearing out campsites at Cuddy Park.
“Closing the Sullivan Arena put unhoused people in real danger, especially as we are living through one of the coldest springtimes in history,” said ACLU of Alaska Executive Director Mara Kimmel. “Abatements separate people from the very things that keep them as safe and warm as possible under difficult circumstances – people’s tents, sleeping bags and blankets were all fair game for the city to take if they couldn’t be moved in time.”
All Alaskans, housed and unhoused, should have an expectation that the government will not jeopardize their lives by cruelly exposing them to the elements, especially without providing the legally required alternative shelter. Anchorage needs to develop and implement comprehensible, humane, and housing-focused solutions to provide real help to people without homes. It cannot continue to ignore the law and punish vulnerable residents for existing in public spaces when they have no alternative shelter.