Bronson team presents plan to build $15M ‘navigation center’ to shelter homeless in Anchorage
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Incoming mayor-elect Dave Bronson and his transition team unveiled a proposal to address homelessness during an Anchorage Assembly housing and homelessness committee meeting Tuesday.
The plan includes the rapid construction of a navigation center, a facility providing 24-hour shelter coupled with referral services to Anchorage’s unhoused population, with an estimated construction cost of $15 million.
Dr. John Morris, a local anesthesiologist who Bronson tapped to lead his transition team focusing on homelessness, presented the plan as a proposed next step for the municipality that will build on efforts to solve homelessness that has been ongoing during the last several years.
“Nowhere on the planet has anyone built a shelter that solved homelessness… We don’t think it will. We don’t promise that it will. We don’t intend it to,” he said. “However, we have also, we’ve looked – and we’re not perfect, there’s probably some metropolis out there that we didn’t look at – but none of them, not a single city in the United States really, has successfully reached functional zero without shelter capacity.”
Morris said the facility would address an existing 450-bed gap in shelters in Anchorage, with the intention of providing enough shelter space to make camping unnecessary. It would be a “low barrier” facility, open to partners, pets and possessions – designed to help people navigate their way to permanent housing. The plan is based on a 400-bed facility, with the capacity to flex up and accommodate additional beds if needed.
The proposed navigation center site is a lot near the former Anchorage Police Department headquarters off of Elmore Road near Tudor Road and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The plan includes a single access road and fencing around the sides of the facility facing the direction of nearby homes and businesses.
The benefits of the location, according to Morris, include its proximity to a persistent law enforcement presence and a local hospital, the fact that it is already owned by the municipality and properly zoned, the existence of utility lines and its distance from businesses and residences.
Morris compared the site to the former Alaska Club Building, which the city has been looking at purchasing to repurpose into a homeless shelter. He said it’s closer to surrounding residences and businesses, not properly zoned, 2.9 miles from the closest hospital and would only have the capacity for 125 beds. He said fencing off the corner property would be difficult, for aesthetic reasons.
The proposal presented on Tuesday is not a comprehensive plan, according to Morris, but rather an immediate first step to address public health and safety concerns.
Assembly members posed questions about what the municipality’s role and responsibility would be in operating the site, how the navigation center would be funded and what means the administration would use to motivate people to use the facility.
Morris suggested using remaining federal coronavirus relief funds, but Bronson said a formal proposal for a funding source will be forthcoming once he takes office on July 1.
“There’s a lot at play, a lot of unknowns on this, but you know, they’re transitioning and don’t have access to the numbers,” said assembly member John Weddleton. “I think for where they are as, becoming elected on May 11 and coming here with this plan that’s not on it’s face wrong at all, it’s very impressive, really.”
Weddleton said he believes the price estimate seems low. He also noted that the Alaska Club building is estimated to fit 125 beds with pandemic-level social distancing, but could likely accommodate a lot more under a different layout, and that both facilities could serve as options to provide shelter to Anchorage’s unhoused population.
“He did a comparison with the Alaska Club, and I don’t know if it’s an either/or,” said Weddleton.
Assembly member Forrest Dunbar said had a number of concerns, including the location and the size of the proposed navigation center. He favors a plan Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson has worked on.
“Even if they somehow were able to create it at this unrealistically low cost, I would not support a facility of that size on that site,” he said.
Assembly Member Jamie Allard defended the plan, saying during the meeting that what the city has done in the past to address homelessness has failed.
“We have a plan that may or may not work, but we actually have a plan better than I have ever been presented or seen with projected numbers, with a facility that has actual treatment inside, not just random buildings (that) were bought and we put the homeless, our neighbors in, and hide,” said Allard.
Bronson said his presentation, weeks before he takes office, marks an earnest effort to work with the assembly to effectively address homelessness.
“Sometimes you just need a new set of eyes on it, and that might be me, it might be Dr. Morris, but we’ve got to come to a final solution on moving forward,” Bronson said to assembly members. “We’ve got to get to see the end game and understand it’s always been a compassionate approach that I’ve always taken because, and I’ve said it time and again on the campaign trail, these are our brothers, our sisters, our families, and we can’t leave them to freeze to death on our streets.”
Bronson’s transition team is hosting a community town hall to discuss their plan from 5-7 p.m. this Thursday at the Wilda Marston Theatre inside the Loussac Library.
Editor’s note: This article had been updated with additional information and quotes.
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