The historic Mat-Su farm community in Palmer is experiencing some of the big-city vagrancy problems that have plagued larger urban populations for decades.

With rising reports of public defecation, litter and even threats of violence, the city is set to hold a communitywide discussion this Friday to brainstorm solutions to the issue.

“For months some of the business owners have been coming to members of the city council saying they have seen an uptick of people coming into Palmer with issues. They might be homeless. They might have drug issues. They might be mentally challenged,” said Palmer City Councilwoman Pamela Melin. “It came to a boiling point about three weeks ago when several business owners showed up who were dealing with people defecating in the back of their buildings and wreaking havoc.”

Melin said one of the downtown business workers were physically threatened and had to call the police.

“At that point, the business owners were really fed up,” Melin said. “They pleaded with us to do something about vagrancy downtown.”

Melin directed the city manager to put together a forum to hear from the community about their ideas, including what the citizenry could live with.

“This is not a decision we can make without everyone’s input,” Melin said. “We want to be empathetic, but we can’t just let it go either. It’s starting to impact commerce and people coming into town.”

Source: National Alliance to end Homelessness

Nationally, homelessness has been on a steady rise for the better part of a decade. According to the National Alliance to end Homelessness, there was roughly 580,000 Americans experiencing homelessness in 2020. About 19% of these were chronically homeless. Alaska had 1,949 people homeless on any given night in 2020, with 327 of these individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.

Melin said she has taken time to speak with a number of people who are now showing up in Palmer to find out where they came from and how they ended up on the city streets.

“Several of them were new to the Valley, and they basically said they were shipped from Anchorage out here,” she said. “We don’t exactly know who’s been doing that, but clearly this is an issue, and something needs to be done.”

Specifically, there are about 35 to 40 individuals who are causing most of the problems, Melin said, but that number is growing.

By holding a community forum on the issue, Melin said she hopes to hear real solutions.

“I really feel for all sides in this situation because a lot of people want to help,” she said. “Of course, there are some who are jumping down our throats because they automatically think that we want to kick them out of town. That’s not what we want. We want input from everyone to see what we haven’t thought of. Where are some connections? Who wants to get involved? There are myriad of things I’m hoping will come out of this.”

On a separate but related issue, Palmer Mayor Steve Carrington is set to meet with a new task force this week to discuss possible solutions to the growing problem of homelessness in and around Palmer.


Palmer business owners and residents are invited to a forum on Acute Vagrancy on Friday, Oct. 14, from 6-7:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Mat-Su Borough School District Board Room at 501 N. Gulkana Street in Palmer.

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Amid rising vagrancy, Palmer to hold townhall meeting

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 24 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.


  • Neil DeWitt says:

    Can anyone answer this question, Why can’t Alaska get some ATCO building like other cities in lower 48 and find a piece of land and set them up. housing, bathrooms and showers all taken care of. Food can be delivered and problem is solved once and fir all. It really is that simple people.

    • Reggie Taylor says:

      It will have to be a BIG plot of land and HUGE budget, because if you house them, more will come.

    • Sharon Turner says:

      The best ideas I have heard (works elswhere) is Some land a bit out of town. It’s like a working ranch, farm and worksops with training. Bunkhouse style living. Drug/alcohol and basic mental health services/counseling. People from all races and bacground traditions encouraged to use their ‘native skills’ or learn new ones that can be used in JOBS, and arts, etc. . Anchorage Assembly members just blew this off.. Doesn’t fit their growing huge lists of “Non” profits that do not work but pay marginally effective “Make work- people” big wages. (Not for profits have become a major Industry. Whose major out put product ?? Is more homelessness, trespassing derelects. grandma

      • Terry Stires says:

        I was with you completely until the snub against non profits. With a dysfunctional Bronson administration, it was the non profits like Bean’s Cafe that stepped in to help at Centennial campground. I’ve been involved in several nonprofits over the years. I’ve never had a salary, none of the board members did either. No staff.

  • Johnny says:

    Taking a liberal approach to this problem by offering continuous handouts only will exacerbate it, take for example Portland, Seattle and Anchorage they have become cesspools because their city assembly members have taken this cupcake approach, it’s like feeding bears or wild animals they become problems. You cannot force change upon a person, you can however initiate change by having laws against vagrancy and homelesness and by having plenty of jail space. Dont be cupcakes on the issue.

    • Whidbey Thedog says:

      So let’s hear your tough love proposals for dealing with it, please. Palmer will find the problem as challenging as does Anchorage.

      • Reggie Taylor says:

        “…….So let’s hear your tough love proposals for dealing with it, please…….”
        Cancel next year’s PFD payout, and with that money, build three Goose Creek size minimum security facilities. Enforce existing vagrancy laws with maximum sentences, which should be under one year in jail. All inmates work five days per week picking up trash alongside the roads.

      • Sharon Alice Turner says:

        The only things that even begin to get the numbers down are examples given summer of 2020 and 2021 by hundreds of tax payers to Anchorage Assembly by folks with many decades of first hand experience. Go back and watch, listen and learn. 100% of workable solutions involve : addiction treament side by side with ‘work for your supper”, a slow,steady approach to bring out people’s pride in living. The best ideas were proposed over several years by tride and true systems.. But blown off by liberalsl and misguidded ‘Faith Based groups”. Why? the idea that most homelessness is from the “least of these ” totally wrong ! Why? the lease of these are people born or became blind, very limited in physical and or mental capacity. The rest.. over 80% have caused their situtations by bad habits. Bible : A person shall work 6 days/rest one day, He who will not work let him not eat (a few days of less help is motivation), A person who does not support his household- worse than and infiel. Ever seen a drastically wounded Ver Work? or People as my granddaughter a Down’s person- work? Also out Villages and their corporations (*an elephant in this room) need to pitch in too, as many folks kicked out of home village- sent here to become a ‘city problem. PS Golden Lion Hotel is by the street where the derelicts friends will wave them out.. this has become its own sub culture. Been studying this for years. Grandma

  • LJ says:

    Stop giving them money & food. Direct them towards Frontline Mission for help and the Salvation Army. Handouts are not a hand up.

  • Reggie Taylor says:

    “……Several of them were new to the Valley, and they basically said they were shipped from Anchorage out here,” she said. “We don’t exactly know who’s been doing that, but clearly this is an issue, and something needs to be done.”…….”
    Give them a van ride back to Anchorage aling with a $20 bill for drinking money upon arrival, but they have to promise not to return, or they’ll be arrested for vagrancy. If this “transport” stuff is going to be the new ‘solution’ for illegal immigration and homelessness, innovation will win out.

    • Terry Stires says:

      Reggie, that attitude is as much a part of the problem as the negative impacts on community by homeless.

  • NAV says:

    I came to Alaska in the mid 70’s after receiving an Honorable discharge from the Armed Forces to disappear and get away from society and eventually worked my way over to the 12 mile area and worked for room and board (not wages) with hard working miners in the area between Boundary and Chicken.
    Working my way to that goal we took day labor jobs that we were able to get working with the Veterans rep at the Unemployment office not standing on the streets holding cardboard signs being someone else’s problem, mind you this was in the middle of the winter. I can tell you this we never run out of work in the day labor jobs that were available and we were always highly recommended to the Veterans rep because of our commitment and integrity to the employer that highered us for the day’s work, that comes from upbringing growing up ranching, logging and working from sunrise to sunset. Now all you see is daralics and delinquiets on the streets who by their own choice choose not to work and would rather rob and steal from the innocent and get high on drugs and alcohol to further their own demise. I am a GOD fearing and loving man and the scripture say take care of widows and orphans, but if a man refuses to work don’t eat and I look around all over Anchorage and in the Valley with the same answer business’s can not find people to work yet the streets are littered with beggars who refuse to clean up and work for a living. To build anything in the Valley is to invite crime when in fact there are laws on the books for vagrancy and loitering how about some accountability in the Valley because if you choose to go down this path the valley will end up being like the cesspool Anchorage is racing towards !!!

    • Sharon Turner says:

      Thank you for your service and all your hard work , NAV. You are one of few who has the answer. When laws are ignored.. it leads to more and bigger problems and crimes. When I came here in 74. This was not a huge problem. But here in Anchorage the past decade or so.. I think some of our Assembly have a vested interest in ‘growing not drastically reducing this. It is the filthy cousin of the Broken window, and graffiti theory that leads steadily downward.

  • Kasey says:

    There have always been homeless. However, since the establishment of handouts and shelters, the program has only grown worse. I grew up in Anchorage and saw this first hand. There’s a certain population of people who do not want to stay in shelters…only when it’s serious cold. And they complain like crazy about the shelters. They like their independence and despise “rules”. They are not interested in holding a job. When you talk to them, they harbor a negative outlook on life and offer lots of excuses. I DO feel for these folks and am not without empathy. Most have come from rough backgrounds, broken families and thus have no hope. They may have substance abuse issues or mental health issues. Anchorage tried the “Red’Nose” Inn approach with dismal results b/c the folks they tried to help were just not capable of making even the bare minimums. The most effective programs I’ve seen have come from the faith-based community. Places like The Rescue Mission in Anchorage where they have compassion, accountability, and counseling for men. But you have to take a long view. There is no over night success. The success stories are years in the making. Teen Challenge (adults and not just teens, despite the name) is another good one. Palmer is a small town that can quickly be over run.

  • Kasey says:

    I might add that it also doesn’t help individuals and families that there is not enough low income housing options in Palmer. There’s more in Wasilla, but some want to stay in Palmer. At least Palmer is a small walkable town for getting to jobs, grocery, etc. Where as Wasilla is sooo spread out if you do not have a car. Winter makes it extra tough. But again, it’s typically NOT the families nor struggling, in-between jobs individuals causing the problems.

  • MJD says:

    What are the chances that certain individuals that make large sums of money from the “homeless “ industry would want to franchise their stake.
    IE. Meg Z.
    Offer a few dozen addicted people a few hundred dollars and a baggie of pills just to go for a little ride.
    Seems like a win win situation for expanding your
    “Not for profit “ scheme.

  • PJ says:

    Any pest control expert will advise that you do not rid of feral scavengers by feeding them.

  • Mongo Love Candy says:

    Ship their butts back to LosAnchorage or better yet buy them one way flights to Martha’s Vineyard.

  • Frank says:

    If they act in in unacceptable way, Ship them out and make them feel unwelcomed.
    This is not our problem. Its a giant money pit to even start thinking of housing these people.
    If you give an inch they will take the city.

  • DoneWithIt says:

    there’s laws on the books to deal with these issues. zero tolerance for vagrancy, loitering, trespassing, public intoxication, shoplifting, and panhandling.
    the approach they are taking in Anchorage is GUARANTEED to fail – it already has EVERYWHERE else its been tried.
    stop creating a group of people that are not held accountable for breaking laws.