Chapter 6

City Hall

Back in Anchorage, I returned to Campbell Creek. This time coming empty handed, I had no idea where I would sleep. Not knowing where else to go, I thought I would find a tree to sleep under. As I entered the parking lot, someone shouted out, “Does anyone need a tent?” “That would be me”, I replied quickly. There was no one else around and the timing could not have been more perfect; God knew my need and was still looking out for me. The man instantly recognized me from my missing person’s photo; he had been involved in an air-search effort, where pilots who were flying over the area were asked to keep an eye out. He told me that it was the opinion of those involved that I would not be able to cross the Little Susitina River, and if somehow I had made it then it was impossible for me to cross the Big Susitina. Needless to say, they were all surprised that I made it all the way to Tyonek. The man then asked me to wait there for him, and soon returned with a sleeping bag; I was set.

I found a quiet spot by the creek to set camp. I picked a place that was in plain sight but difficult to reach, wanting to be out of the way as to not be easily disturbed. I was still barefoot and decided to forgo shoes and see if I could handle being shoeless full-time, although my feet were badly injured and it meant walking very slowly and carefully. Shiloh had the run of the park and I was meeting a whole new batch of people, along with some returning from the previous year. One of whom, Shawn Dugan, had become a good friend, and was now my new neighbor. He set his own camp not far from mine, prominently in the center of the park. We were still under protection from the court injunction, and as such we made no effort to hide. However, we were still facing opposition from the police, and they frequently stopped by so we would know we were not forgotten, one certain sergeant telling me that I was “his new project”.

It wasn’t long before the mayor, Dan Sullivan, had sorted out the details of the court injunction and was again allowed to take down camps, which he resumed at grand scale. One night, I could hear a helicopter in the distance coming down the creek. It would hesitate to hover periodically, going camp to camp. It briefly hovered over my tent, then I heard it pause over Shawn’s, and then it was gone. The next couple days notices were affixed to all the camps, and within the coming weeks an effort went underway to remove every camp in the city. The park was full of police, cop cars parked across the lawn. Dozens of people set to work confiscating tents, blankets, and all personal items found. Now every homeless person was displaced and now lacked even the basic essentials for survival. I wondered, where will all these people go? In fact, I was now in the same boat, I also did not know where to go.

Several of us were sitting under a tree not far from the park, watching the events unfold. I had gotten to know one of the men who was tasked with clearing out camps, in the proceeding weeks, and he now showed me that he was my friend indeed. I could see him from across the park heading my way. He had a large orange trash bag in his hands so full that he could hardly see over it. He walked past police officers and walked around squad cars to reach me, then with his head held high he handed me the bag full of my tent and all my sleeping gear. I waited until the police had left and returned to my camping spot, and set my tent exactly where it had been.

The following night when I returned to my camp, my tent had been tore down and thrown into the creek. The mayor had declared open season on the homeless by his blatant disregard for the care and safety of those living in the streets, common citizens now taking things into their own hands when it appeared that the mayor was falling short in his own efforts. I set up my tent and went to bed, happy to have Shiloh with me as an added security precaution. The next night when I returned to camp, my tent was again in the creek, this time with my sleeping gear as well. The third night when I returned, my tent was gone and my blankets were again scattered down the creek. I moved my camp to the head of the park, now sleeping on the observation deck overlooking the creek in front of the parking lot. Having no tent, just several blankets, I began to sleep in plain sight in protest of the mayor’s efforts.

The third night of sleeping on the deck, a police officer came and told me that the park was closed at night, and that I would have to leave and then disappeared from sight. I rolled over and fell back asleep. She soon reappeared and reiterated that I was to leave. I informed her that I was protesting and would not be leaving. She said that if I did not leave that I would be arrested for trespassing, to which I replied that I would not resist. When I did not comply the officer became irate. She climbed on top of me and rolled me over in a rage, putting me in handcuffs, while I lay limp. Then two large male officers grabbed me, one on each arm, dragging me like a rag doll, they ran me into every post and rail between there and the squad car. Then getting a running start, the lady cop opening the back door for them, they launched me into the back seat of the squad car, slamming the door behind me. I landed, wedged sideways into the small space of the floorboards, and was pinned by the now closed door. All I could do was cry out in pain, pleading for God to help me. After some time, they repositioned me and took me to the jail for the night.

In the morning I was released, but now downtown with no means of transportation back to the park. I was too beat up to think of walking back, so I instead made the short walk to the mayor’s office hoping to ask him his plans and intentions for the now displaced hundreds of homeless people in his city. Arriving at his office, I was again told that I would not be permitted to see him without first filling out a request form. I told his secretary that I had already submitted a request some two years earlier and was denied. I informed her that I would be sitting out front where Dan could find me when he was ready to talk. Little did I know that the corner of 6th and G would be my home for the next 5 months.

I took a seat on the curb, 8 stories directly below the mayor’s office, with my feet in the street. Within about 20 minutes I had my first visit by an APD officer. He said to me that I could not be sitting there. I informed him that I was protesting the city’s removal of homeless camps, and that I intended to sit there until the mayor would decide to talk with me. He replied that I could not sit in the street and requested me to sit against the building. I agreed to his request, and he left me sitting there. It was not long before the city hall security made his rounds and eventually the downtown security detail, both of which let me be after I informed them of the police officer’s instructions.

People saw me sitting there barefoot, and began asking me if I was OK. I soon had plenty of blankets and had spread one out to sit on. It became obvious that I was posted there and as such opened the door for lots of conversations about my concerns for the displaced homeless people. Food was continually dropped off, so much so that I shared freely with all who would stop by. So much money being handed to me that it seemed a blur of $20 bills. Not needing money, since my every need was being supplied through random acts of kindness, I would simply hand the cash to the next person who would walk by.

That first evening, a lady came out of a bar with a large can of beer that she had just opened. She handed it to me and walked off. I was thankful for the blessing and began sipping on it while I sat there. I was not wanting to get into trouble for drinking in public so I kept it hidden by wrapping my blanket around it as a cover. But then I realized that it was a double minded act; I was hiding the very thing that I received as a gift from God. So I placed the beer prominently in plain sight directly in front of me, sipping it openly. I was aware that alcoholism was a huge issue amongst the homeless people, and that the common perception is that sobriety was the answer to alcoholism. But I also realized that Jesus’ message was that of moderation, I chose to trust Jesus’ wisdom and made an open stand for beer, choosing to openly drink the occasional beer that would turn up.

Several people offered me shoes, for which I thanked them but declined. Suddenly a car clearing the intersection, turned in front of me. The window was down and they tossed something my way. Bouncing three times, a pair of sandals landed at my feet. Later, being denied entry without footwear, those sandals came in handy, to enter the transit center across the street, for using the restroom.

It soon became apparent that the mayor would not choose to see me, instead taking legal action in an attempt to have me removed. Unwilling to face me himself, he sent the head prosecuting attorney. Papers in hand, and under police escort, she handed me papers summonsing me to court. Leaving my belongings behind on the sidewalk, several days later, I headed to the courthouse for the hearing. Conditions of release were added to my charges of trespassing from the Campbell Creek arrest. I would not be permitted to camp on the block of City Hall. Returning to my post, I retrieved my gear and promptly moved kitty-corner across the intersection where I would continue my protest. Happy to be out of the shadow of City Hall, I was now enjoying the sunny weather; it had been an improvement as far as I was concerned.

Having left Shiloh behind in the park when I was arrested, my friend Shawn took her in. Shawn reset his camp in the woods of the park and had refused to leave. While I was protesting on City Hall, he was resisting the mayor’s efforts back at Campbell Creek. Shiloh now joined me and would stay with me the remainder of the summer. Soon after her arrival, someone gave me a Siamese kitten; I named her Queen Sheba, and Sheba became Shiloh’s best friend. In the beginning, Shiloh was determined to get that cat, unrestrained I think she would certainly have eaten it in one gulp. But after three days of unrelenting pursuit, and gradually putting them together when they would become exhausted, they became inseparable. They would play together all day, nonstop, then curl up and sleep together all night. What a Pair! Then one night, in a heavy rain, Sheba disappeared, never to be seen again.

In apparent frustration of my presence on his sidewalk, Dan Sullivan used all his power and influence as mayor to make sure that everyone would assume the worst against me, bringing up my past record trying to make my wrong doings the the focus of attention instead of my concerns for the homeless people. This triggered a firestorm of articles and comments in the press, chiding the mayor for his underhanded remarks. Sullivan responded, saying that I would have to clean up and make myself presentable as a good self-worthy human being would do, as well as filling out a form in the mayor’s office if I wanted to have a legitimate meeting. The result was a division among the people; there were those who stepped up with kindness, encouraging me to be strong, and there were those who came out of the woodwork, intent to cause me harm, stirred up by the mayor’s comments.