Violating a burn ban is now a misdemeanor in Anchorage


the seal of a fire department
The seal of the Anchorage Fire Department. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

It is now a misdemeanor in Anchorage to violate a burn ban. That’s after the Assembly unanimously approved an emergency ordinance Tuesday against open burning when it’s prohibited. 

The Anchorage Fire Department declared a burn ban on Friday — until further notice. That ban prohibits all open fires including backyard fire pits.

The emergency ordinance makes it a class A misdemeanor to knowingly create an open burn when it is prohibited, or to permit open burning without contacting emergency services. Penalties for a class A misdemeanor can include up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. Before the ordinance, the consequence for violating a burn ban was a civil penalty. 

The emergency ordinance will last for 60 days. The Assembly anticipates voting on a more permanent version of the ordinance at its next meeting on June 7. 

The National Weather Service says fire danger will remain high through the upcoming Memorial Day weekend in much of Southcentral Alaska, with warm and dry conditions in the forecast.

RELATED: Crews contain Anchorage wildfire that spread from burning home

New community fridge aims to ease hunger in Anchorage


The Mountain View community fridge opened on Saturday, May 21, 2022. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

On a sunny, Saturday afternoon, Ziona Brownlow showed volunteers the ins and outs of the new community fridge in Mountain View, a north Anchorage neighborhood that’s one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the country. It’s also an area that’s been targeted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as having high levels of food insecurity.

Brownlow said about 10% of Anchorage residents, upward of 30,000 people, suffer from food insecurity. 

“So one in every 10 people that we know doesn’t know where they’re going to get their food from,” she said. “They might have to decide if they’re going to pay for their prescription or pay for gas, or if they’re going to pay for food.”

Brownlow hopes the new community fridge helps combat hunger in the city, where food insecurity soared during the pandemic and where inflation continues to drive up food prices. The community fridge had its grand opening on Saturday. “Bring what you can, take what you need, and help us #FeedAnchorage,” said the invitation.

Ziona Brownlow sits in the Mountain View community fridge. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

Brownlow started thinking about the concept of a community fridge during the pandemic.

She’d been working in food activism since 2018, when she founded Food for Thought Alaska. It started as a blog and she wrote about the ways local businesses were helping keep people fed. Then COVID-19 hit.

“My sort of ‘shop small, eat local’ mission got drowned in this wave of ‘Save Anchorage’ and ‘keep the restaurants open,’” she said. “And so I stepped away from that and food blogging and just looked at the very obvious need of employees being laid off, and the increase of homelessness services, and the increase of need at the Food Bank.”

She saw community fridges pop up across the country in cities like Miami, Atlanta and Chicago. And she decided to try to open one in Anchorage. She began organizing with other community groups.

Items inside the Mountain View community fridge include canned goods and produce as well as menstrual pads and baby formula. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

While it’s been a chronic problem for years, food insecurity ballooned during the pandemic as people lost their jobs, said Cara Durr, chief of advocacy and public policy at the Food Bank of Alaska. 

“In the beginning of the pandemic, we saw the level of need shoot up about 75%, which of course is just unprecedented,” Durr said. “Every day we were talking to people who lost all their household income, are turning to programs like SNAP and our food pantries. And it has remained elevated ever since.”

Even as the pandemic has winded down, Durr said issues like inflation are keeping food insecurity above pre-pandemic levels. 

“So we’re seeing those levels creep up really close to what we saw at the height of the pandemic, which is pretty scary,” she said.

The Food Bank works with federal grants and programs to distribute food across Alaska, and so it’s limited in which organizations it can partner with, said Durr.

“We can’t partner with something like a free fridge project just because there isn’t the level of monitoring for food safety and regulation that we are held to” she said. “But just because we’re not partnering doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea or something needed by the community.”

Durr said that’s also not to suggest the food at the community fridge isn’t safe to eat, and Brownlow said that volunteers follow national food safety precautions when handling food. Brownlow said she thinks the community fridge is more personal than the traditional food bank model. 

“We’re coming as close as we can to mirroring what food distribution looks like in a nonprofit industrial complex, but decentralizing making it more accessible at a grassroots, neighbor-to-neighbor level,” she said.

Brownlow wants the community fridge to complement the work the Food Bank is already doing.

Ziona Brownlow helps a woman get a few items from the community fridge. Items are received through donations, and free to the public. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

The new community fridge is tucked right off Mountain View Drive. It’s about the size of a small shed, with a couple double-door fridges inside, like the kind you might see in a grocery store. There are stands for fruit and metal shelves drilled into the wall for canned goods. Cup Noodles boxes and granola bars were stacked in a corner. The outside is weatherized, and Brownlow said it was bear-proofed as well. Volunteers check on the fridge throughout the day.

For Alaskans looking to get something to eat, it’s as easy as walking up and taking food.

Brownlow said donations can be dropped off at the fridge doors. And they’re not just accepting food. On a table near the volunteer sign-up on Saturday were rapid COVID tests, and Brownlow said other non-perishable, non-food items like masks, gloves and hand sanitizer are accepted as well.

“Diapers, baby formula, hygiene products, you need to share them,” Brownlow said. “I’m looking in here and I’m seeing pads and there’s juice… there’s Similac in here. It just makes my heart so happy.”

Brownlow said she looks forward to seeing other harm-reduction items like bandages, contraception and fentanyl test strips in the fridge.

While the fridge isn’t limited to just food, Brownlow said it is limited to what kinds of food and goods it can accept at this point. 

“So we don’t have a freezer, and it’s easier for us to avoid any mishandling of food if we don’t have any raw meats, any frozen meats, any frozen food that might need to remain frozen,” she said. “So we don’t want anything like that there. We don’t want any medication, alcohol, furniture, clothing.”

Brownlow said in addition to Mountain View, the neighborhoods of Muldoon, Spenard, Government Hill and Midtown have been targeted by the USDA as areas with high rates of food insecurity. She hopes to see fridges in those communities in the future. 

The Mountain View community fridge is now open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Newscast – Friday, May 20, 2022

In this newscast: Hundreds of hours of audio from the retired Southeast Native Radio are now archived online; Dolena Fox is one of the world’s first female Yup’ik commercial pilots

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Alaska News Nightly: Friday, May 20, 2022


A landslide as seen from the air
The Lowell Point Landslide (Photo courtesy of James Unrein)

Stories are posted on the statewide news page. Send news tips, questions, and comments to news@alaskapublic.org. Follow Alaska Public Media on Facebook and on Twitter @AKPublicNews. And subscribe to the Alaska News Nightly podcast.

Friday on Alaska News Nightly:

The state’s Office of Children’s Services has been sued over its handling of foster care. Also, Alaskans welcome Ukrainian refugees to the United States. And weeks after a landslide, the road to Lowell Point may soon be cleared.

Reports tonight from:

Wesley Early in Anchorage
Sabine Poux in Kenai
Jeremy Hsieh in Juneau
Emily Schwing in Bethel
and Tim Ellis in Delta Junction

Alaska News Nightly is hosted by Casey Grove, with producing and audio engineering from Toben Shelby and Katie Anastas.

Read more at Alaska Public Media

Line One: Aging in place and caregiver support

Alaska has the fastest growing senior population per capita, with those aged 60 and older making up 19.5% of the state. It is estimated that there are nearly 8,500 elderly with Alzheimer’s and related dementia. Our fortunate elders are supported by caregivers who often suffer from a lack of resources and support. Occupational therapists can provide much needed services to allow our elders to age with dignity in their homes and provide caregiver support.

HOST: Dr. Jillian Woodruff

GUESTS:

  • Breanna James, Occupational Therapist, Authentic Living, LLC
  • Emily Byl, Occupational Therapist and Owner, Well Haven Occupational Therapy

LINKS/RESOURCES:

https://www.well-haven.com/

PARTICIPATE:

Call 550-8433 (Anchorage) or 1-888-353-5752 (statewide) during the live broadcast (10–11 a.m.).

Send an email to lineone@alaskapublic.org before, during or after the live broadcast (e-mails may be read on air).

LIVE BROADCAST: Wednesday, May 25, 2022, at 10 a.m. AKDT
REPEAT BROADCAST: Wednesday, May 25, 2022, at 8 p.m. AKDT

LINE ONE’S FAVORITE HEALTH AND SCIENCE LINKS:

SUBSCRIBE: Get Line One: Your Health Connection updates automatically by:

Read more at Alaska Public Media

Class-action lawsuit says state is failing Alaska foster kids

The Office of Children’s Services Building in Bethel. (Photo by Lakeidra Chavis/KYUK)

A new federal class-action lawsuit filed against Alaska’s Office of Children’s Services asserts that the state is failing children in foster care. Lawyers for the 13 child plaintiffs claim the state has known about widespread foster care problems for years, but hasn’t addressed them. 

In the 90-page complaint filed Thursday, they say problems include high caseloads for caseworkers and high turnover among those workers, plus few adequate foster homes and a lack of adequate support for placing foster children with family members. 

The group of attorneys representing the plaintiffs include A Better Childhood, a New York-based advocacy nonprofit focused on foster care. The group has filed a number of class action lawsuits in other states such as Oklahoma, West Virginia and Indiana.

Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood, said Alaska isn’t the worst state when it comes to meeting federal requirements, but it’s far from the best. 

“Alaska is fifth-worst in returning kids to their family homes and seventh-worst in the country on the frequency with which children are visited, which is a federal mandate,” Lowry said. 

The state Department of Health and Social Services and OCS are listed as defendants in the complaint. 

Officials with the state agencies said Friday that they hadn’t been served with the complaint yet, and couldn’t comment on the case. In a statement, they said, “what we can say is that the State takes its obligations for reunification of families, foster care, and the health and welfare of all Alaskan children very seriously.” 

READ MORE: The COVID-19 pandemic is leaving more children in Alaska’s foster care system without a stable home

The complaint says the problems in the state’s foster care system are widespread.

It says the system is causing particular harm to Alaska Native children, who make up roughly two-thirds of all Alaska children in foster care, despite being a little over a fourth of the state’s population. Under the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, child welfare agencies are federally compelled to work as hard as possible to house Native foster children with their families, or with their tribes. 

The complaint details numerous stories from the plaintiffs, including five Alaska Native siblings who hadn’t been placed in homes that complied with ICWA, a boy with ADHD who had been moved to seven different homes since April of last year and a 16-year-old girl who reported she was sexually assaulted at a mental health treatment facility she was placed at hundreds of miles from her home.

The complaint also says the state isn’t doing enough to address foster children who have disabilities.

Lowry said another issue is that sometimes when kids are placed with family members, the families aren’t licensed by the state as official foster parents, so they don’t receive the funding and support that comes with that licensing. 

“And the children either struggle alone without adequate money available for their food and clothing and other activities,” Lowry said, “or the foster parents basically break under the pressure and the kids get moved out and moved to another placement, and another replacement, and another placement.”

Lowry said the plaintiffs hope their lawsuit results in the Superior Court ordering the state to take a number of actions, including reducing caseloads for foster care workers. Currently, those workers sometimes are trying manage case numbers that total three times the national average. Turnover among staff is roughly 60 percent.

“So there’s a lot that has to be done with regard to caseloads, and the state has to develop more and better foster homes,” Lowry said. “At the same time, the state needs to provide services so that kids can return home more quickly, or if that’s not appropriate or safe, so the kids can be adopted, either by relatives if possible or other people as well.”

There are roughly 3,000 children in the foster care system in Alaska.

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Read more at Alaska Public Media

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, May 19, 2022


A person holds a sign that reads “APD body cameras now” in bold letters at a rally for justice for Bishar Hassan on Friday near 16th Avenue and A Street, where roughly a hundred people attended. Hassan was shot and killed by Anchorage Police Department officers three years ago nearby, after he pulled out a BB gun from his pants. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Stories are posted on the statewide news page. Send news tips, questions, and comments to news@alaskapublic.org. Follow Alaska Public Media on Facebook and on Twitter @AKPublicNews. And subscribe to the Alaska News Nightly podcast.

Thursday on Alaska News Nightly:

Alaskans would get $3,200 under a budget passed by the legislature. Also, the Anchorage police union prepares to negotiate over a new body camera policy. And with thousands of Ironman race participants expected in Juneau, the city is encouraging residents to help house them.

Reports tonight from:

Wesley Early in Anchorage
Bridget Dowd and Yvonne Krumrey in Juneau
Anna Rose MacArthur in Bethel
and Kirsten Dobroth in Kodiak

Alaska News Nightly is hosted by Casey Grove, with producing and audio engineering from Toben Shelby and Katie Anastas.

Read more at Alaska Public Media

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, May 18, 2022


A fisherman pulls a king salmon from the Kuskokwim River during a subsistence fishing opening on June 12, 2018. (Photo by Katie Basile / KYUK)

Stories are posted on the statewide news page. Send news tips, questions, and comments to news@alaskapublic.org. Follow Alaska Public Media on Facebook and on Twitter @AKPublicNews. And subscribe to the Alaska News Nightly podcast.

Wednesday on Alaska News Nightly:

The federal government is suing the state of Alaska over its management of Kuskokwim River salmon fishing. Clean water advocates hope for new PFAS regulations by the end of the legislative session. And Pebble Mine opponents ask the Environmental Protection Agency to protect Bristol Bay.

Reports tonight from:

Corinne Smith in Haines
Dan Bross in Fairbanks
Izzy Ross in Dillingham
Sabine Poux in Kenai
Wesley Early in Anchorage
and Lex Treinen in Wasilla

Alaska News Nightly is hosted by Casey Grove, with producing and audio engineering from Toben Shelby and Katie Anastas.

Read more at Alaska Public Media

Juneau Fine Arts Camp: A family tradition.

Guests: Electra Gardenier, Juneau Fine Arts Camp manager.  After more than 40 years, the Juneau Fine Arts camp has become a multi-generational experience for many in the community — a chance for students to explore the arts and much more.  Electra Gardenier, who is now director the program, was once a student at the camp,…

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