Assembly delays vote on homeless, addiction services ordinance

Anchorage Assembly members listen to a presentation from the administration.
Anchorage Assembly members listen to a presentation from the administration.(KTUU)
Published: Jul. 28, 2020 at 12:02 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - After weeks of intense public testimony, the Anchorage Assembly met Monday night to begin debate and amendment of a controversial ordinance to authorize the purchase of four buildings around the city to be converted into service centers for homelessness and addiction treatment. But the vote on that ordinance will have to wait a bit longer after the Assembly voted to delay the final decision to their August 11 meeting.

The decision was made in order for Assembly members and Anchorage residents to get more information on the ordinance. Assembly Vice-Chair Austin Quinn-Davidson said she entered the meeting with a number of questions she submitted to the administration.

“Many of those questions were raised in public testimony,” she said. “And I think it’s imperative that we get answers to the questions that the public raised and that I and my colleagues have before we take a vote.”

She wasn’t the only one with questions. Several Assembly members had sent their lists to the administration, which Jason Bockentsedt, the mayor’s chief of staff, tried to address in a four-hour presentation addressing the state of homelessness in Anchorage, the plan to address it, and where this ordinance fits into that picture. Bockenstedt also provided the administration’s justification for using CARES Act funds to purchase three of the buildings, citing guidance from the US Department of Treasury on acceptable uses for the funds.

“It’s expenses of actions taken to facilitate compliance with COVID-19 public health measures such as...expenses for care for the homeless populations provided to mitigate COVID-19 effects,” he said.

Bockenstedt explained that shelter space in Anchorage went down dramatically when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. Distancing requirements led to roughly 400 fewer beds being available. He also cited CDC guidance recommending rapid rehousing to further help homeless individuals get out of congregate settings.

Assembly Member Crystal Kennedy questioned whether funds dedicated to solving a temporary issue should be used for buying and renovating buildings, rather than just providing temporary shelter space during the pandemic.

“Obviously providing relief for businesses is temporary,” she said. “Providing relief for rental assistance and mortgage assistance is temporary, but we’re talking about purchasing buildings that will actually be owned by the municipality in perpetuity.”

The response from Bockentstedt was that the administration doesn’t anticipate shelters going back to their previous numbers after the pandemic now that the health risks of housing people in mass settings has been highlighted.

“People couldn’t be well in the environment that they were in, just from a breathing perspective, inhale, exhale,” said Assembly Member Christopher Constant. “That wasn’t even safe for them in the way we were warehousing human beings, stacking them like sardines.”

The Assembly also has a number of amendments to work through before a final vote can happen, so it will likely be a lengthy meeting on the 11th as well.

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