Locals speak out against proposal to house homeless vets off Hiland Road

Sunday, September 9, 2018 - 15:26
  • Alaska Veterans Foundation chairman Ric Davidge speaks during the monthly meeting of the South Fork Community Council at Eagle River High School on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Alaska Veterans Foundation chairman Ric Davidge speaks during the monthly meeting of the South Fork Community Council at Eagle River High School on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Assemblywoman Amy Demboski speaks during the monthly meeting of the South Fork Community Council at Eagle River High School on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • A map provided by the Alaska Veterans Foundation chair Ric Davidge shows the proposed site of “Veterans Village,” a facility Davidge says will house homeless veterans. Davidge’s foundation does not have title to the land, nor the backing of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Ric Davidge brought his own cameraman to film his Thursday appearance at the South Fork Community Council meeting.

There weren’t a lot of highlights.

The chairman of the Alaska Veterans Foundation got more than an earful during his first appearance before the council in whose backyard he wants to build a facility to house up to 100 homeless veterans.

“This community is completely against your proposal,” council chair Karl von Luhrte told Davidge.

Nobody seemed to disagree.

Davidge spent the first 20 minutes of the council meeting at Eagle River High School explaining his proposed “Veterans Village” concept, which would house homeless veterans at a planned facility on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson land off Hiland Road. Though Davidge’s location doesn’t have the support of base brass, he told the council he’s hopeful to get support by lobbying at the federal level.

“JBER does not make the decision,” Davidge said.

Davidge opened his remarks by apologizing for not visiting the South Fork council earlier. He’s presented his proposal to other area councils, but said his lack of communication with the SFCC was due to an oversight.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get in to visit with you about three years ago,” he said, telling the council he wasn’t aware of its existence until earlier this year.

Davidge explained Veterans Village would require its residents to work and said anyone chosen to live on the site would be carefully vetted. He also told the council residents would be under strict rules not to cause problems in the community.

“If you screw up, you’re gone,” he said.

But council members raised numerous objections to Davidge’s plan ranging from the smell (the location is across the Glenn Highway from the Anchorage Landfill) to a lack of supervision for residents to the potential for the village to bring more homeless to the South Fork area.

“This is probably one of the worst places to build a facility of this nature,” said Jose Vicente, who also pointed out the area would be in the path of any potential Eagle River Loop Road extension.

Council vice chair Joe Wright said area resident’s don’t see how the Hiland Road locataion — with its proximity to a high school, landfill and shooting range — makes sense.

“That’s probably the number one frustration that everyone I’ve talked to has expressed,” Wright said.

Davidge said a fleet of vans would shuttle residents to work and appointments, and that the concerns about noise from the nearby shooting range have been overblown — though he did acknowldege he hasn’t yet come up with a solution to the smell. He also told the council that since the project would be on federal land, he’d be able to save on costs due to fewer regulations.

“We like the idea of keeping it under federal management because, guess what? I don’t have to comply with all of those municipal regulations,” he said.

That comment didn’t sit well with Gregory Fast, who lives near the high school.

“There are very good reasons for building codes,” Fast told Davidge.

Fast said he thinks building a homeless facility off Hiland Road would be “a problem waiting to happen.”

“I’m 100 percent against this project and I can’t tell you how upset I am about it,” he said.

Jamie Allard — a U.S. Army veteran who lives in the nearby Eagle River Valley council area — said she’s worked at the Veterans Administration’s domiciliary in Anchorage, which she said currently delivers many of the services Davidge aims to provide. In addition to saying the facility is not needed, Allard also questioned why Davidge is trying to push through a proposal that doesn’t have the support of the base.

“As a community member I think everybody should know the other side of the coin,” she said.

Von Luhrte told Davidge he thinks the proposed facility would attract more homeless to the area.

“There’s going to be tent cities popping up and down that road,” von Luhrte said.

None of the roughly two dozen people in attendance spoke in favor of Davidge’s proposal, though one council member of the public did raise the idea of creating a committee to study the issue; the proposal was tabled until the next meeting.

At the end of his remarks, Davidge thanked the council for its input and shook hands with von Luhrte. He said the council raised several issues he’d attempt to address, and promised to keep South Fork residents in the loop from now on.

“I’m willing to come back anytime,” he said.

It’s unclear how Thursday’s meeting will impact support for Davidge’s proposal. In May, the Anchorage Assembly passed a resolution supporting the Veterans Village concept, but the resolution came with a stipulation inserted by assemblymember Amy Demboski that said municipal backing would be contingent on Davidge winning over his potential neighbors.

“I said it was crucial to have community support,” Demboski told the council.

Von Luhrte — who like many who spoke Thursday is a combat veteran — said he supports the mission of housing homeless vets. But he’s convinced the Veterans Village idea is a nonstarter in South Fork.

“Unfortunately I don’t think this is the correct location,” he said.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected]

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