Following Assembly vote on homelessness ordinances, work toward improved infrastructure for at-risk residents continues

A meeting of the Assembly Committee on Housing and Homelessness drew small crowd Wednesday
Anchorage skyline.
Anchorage skyline.
Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 8:11 PM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Following a meeting of Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday – during which the body approved two ordinances changing where and how homeless shelters can operate within municipal limits – the Assembly Committee on Housing and Homelessness and members of the incoming mayoral administration met Wednesday to discuss the tentative plans for a possible mass shelter as well as alternatives that could also serve as viable options.

The talks follow the assembly’s approval of two hot-button ordinances: AO 2021-54, allowing homeless and transient shelters in B-3 zoning districts under conditional use; and AO 2021-55(S-1), implementing licensing requirements for shelters, beginning in 2023.

With the approval of those two items, the body also capped emergency shelter capacity at 150 people for shelters in the B-3 General Business district, a far cry from the setup for 400-500 people that Mayor-elect Dave Bronson’s team has presented. According to Assembly Vice Chair Christopher Constant, though that mass shelter for more people would still be possible, it would need additional approval, whether by the assembly, the Anchorage Health Department or both, depending on the circumstances.

As for the meeting Wednesday, the hope was to have a good dialogue, according to Dr. John Morris, who has been designated as the lead of Bronson’s homelessness transition plan.

“The more chances we get to talk about what we’re doing, and hear back from folks are saying and what they’re concerned about, the better the plan is going to be when we’re done,” he said. “I’m very optimistic. Change isn’t easy for anybody, but this isn’t a big change. The city has built a lot of good stuff. Things are teed up for success in the homeless space.”

Committee lead and assembly member Meg Zalatel said she wanted to frame discussions in terms of sheltering Anchorage’s at-risk population from this fall to April of next year.

“Standing up mass shelter through the winter may result in long-term shelter locations,” she said, “but the purpose is to help ensure health and safety through this winter, while Anchorage continues to experience elevated levels of individuals experiencing homelessness.”

Leaders of Bronson’s transition team said ongoing talks are just another part of continuing discussions regarding moving forward with a plan to tackle the city’s homelessness crisis.

“The process is ongoing,” said Craig Campbell, who’s currently serving as the co-chair of Bronson’s transition team. “What’s unresolved? Everything. I mean, we’ve got a proposal, we’re looking at funding. Of course, Mayor Bronson has to be sworn in July 1 for us to go forward. So the process is still evolving between the assembly and the public and administration-to-be.”

A small crowd also gathered inside the Assembly Chambers Wednesday to testify regarding plans for the proposed new shelter in Anchorage. As they’ve been since the start, feelings amongst the public appeared to remain mixed, with varying opinions on how the issue in the community should be tackled.

Some said they think the plan could be “too big,” with one testifier saying a smaller-scale operation might be better, but that he appreciates the effort no matter what. Others want to see more people included in the plan, such as more social workers and contact tracers.

Assembly member John Weddleton said he believes Bronson’s plan, as it stands, should “be in play,” but that it is difficult to see the mass shelter presented being completed, especially within the time constraints allotted.

“The real question is, does the shelter bring a problem to the neighborhood or help solve a problem?” he said, following Wednesday’s meeting. “You would get people off the streets for much of the day ... and we know a well-run shelter will draw people towards them. So a shelter can help, but there’s a lot of fear.

“(Mayor-elect Bronson) has gone out with what he knows is big and controversial, and he’s put it forth,” he continued. “So that is impressive, whatever happens with it. I’m pleased he’s made this big step before he’s sworn in.”

Weddleton said he has concerns, though, particularly regarding deadlines, as the Bronson team has suggested a new shelter could be ready by fall.

“It sounds really challenging to me,” he said. “The realities of bringing utilities to it; maybe they could build a structure, but could you even have the utilities in there? That’s just hard to imagine, getting a design, getting bids to build it, seems really difficult.”

A special meeting of the assembly will take place July 1, the same day Bronson is sworn in. The next regular meeting will be on July 13.

Copyright 2021 KTUU. All rights reserved.