Anchorage business owners are hiring safety ambassadors to manage the homeless situation downtown

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – Business owners are taking action to help manage interactions between Anchorage’s homeless residents and downtown patrons.

Many business owners say the presence of homeless Anchorage residents drives away tourists and is just bad for business, which is why they’re working with the Downtown Anchorage Partnership to help address the situation as a balancing act to maintain safety while showing human compassion.

ADP employees who have direct contact with the homeless are called Safety Ambassadors. Safety ambassadors’ duties include waking up homeless people sleeping on the streets downtown, calling the police if they don’t comply and trying to find help for those who have nowhere else to go. Their work is not for everyone as it can be both heartbreaking and dangerous at times.

Safety ambassadors Ray Gilkey and Vander Blue start their day well before dawn, hours before businesses open their doors.

“We’re going up and down 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th,” Gilkey said. “We go around and wake up the homeless and help them when they need help.”

Gilkey has been on the job for several years and sees all kinds of people down on their luck.

“Some of them on the door, on the doors, some of them were laying on the sidewalk,” Gilkey said.

Gilkey and Blue head to the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, a place where homeless Anchorage residents often seek refuge at night.

“Somebody up here,” Gilkey calls out.

Gilkey and Blue go up the stairs and find two homeless Anchorage residents huddled on the landing.

“Hey guys, it’s time to wake up,” Gilkey says to the pair, who remain covered in winter jackets.

“It’s time to get up. They are going to open a store. Blue said as the pair started to wake up.

As they continue their walk through downtown Anchorage, the safety ambassadors notice another couple sleeping on flattened cardboard boxes in the doorway of a business.

“They’re blocking that door, but they’re not using it, so we’re going to wait about 30 minutes and come back and pick them up,” Gilkey said as he tried to show some compassion for those in that situation. “Nobody likes to be woken up early in the morning… They don’t really have anywhere to go. For some reason they don’t like going down to Sullivan.

Sullivan Arena currently houses some of Anchorage’s homeless residents, but not all of them choose to stay there. Social workers say a large percentage of the homeless population is experiencing substance abuse or mental health issues and doesn’t always know what to do or where to turn for help, while others simply don’t want the help.

“A lot of times they, they don’t want to get up and when they don’t want to get up then we have to call the police, sometimes they want to try to fight,” says Gilkey.

“A lot of times when we see a guy like that acting like that, we’ll have, toward a tourist or something, we’ll come over and try to calm him down, stop him and call the cops,” Gilkey said.

While walking near the old courthouse, a homeless man approached Gilkey and Blue for help. He identified himself as Derek Angie. When asked what he was struggling with, Angie replied: “I don’t know, I’m, I think I have a mental illness, I think that’s it.”

“There’s a guy sitting here saying he wants to talk to somebody,” Gilkey said as he radioed his supervisor. “He said he needed, he needed some kind of, he wanted to talk to somebody for help, help for his life.”

A service worker soon met with Angi to give him guidance and resources that could potentially help with his situation.

ADP says its goal is to strike a balance between keeping Anchorage’s homeless residents off the streets while striving to preserve their dignity and well-being. ADP is hired and paid by local business owners.

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