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The Anchorage Assembly didn’t move forward with Bronson’s homeless plan. What happens next?

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson speaks with news reporters on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson speaks with news reporters on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.(Daniella Rivera // Alaska's News Source)
Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 4:03 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly pressed pause on Mayor Dave Bronson’s plan to build a mass homeless shelter and “navigation center” in East Anchorage Tuesday night when its members failed to introduce a resolution that asked for funding. That development leaves uncertainty about the municipality’s next step when it comes to sheltering people who are experiencing homelessness this winter.

Bronson’s proposal sought $15 million to get started on building a 450-bed facility, with a target completion date of Oct. 25 of this year. Those opposed to the plan cited doubt in the ambitious timeline and associated unknown costs as concerns.

The agenda item did not receive the needed support of three assembly members in order to be introduced and set for a future public hearing during Tuesday night’s meeting, effectively killing the proposal for now.

“It wasn’t our objective, but it wasn’t surprising,” Bronson said during an interview Wednesday.

With his initial plan stalled, Bronson said his administration is reevaluating and will continue working with the assembly toward a solution.

“Winter is coming and we’re not gonna allow anyone to freeze to death on the streets,” he said. “My administration and the assembly will come together. This is the process. This is the sausage making that is government. Now, but at the end of the day, myself and 11 assembly members will come to the right answer and we’ll make it happen.”

Last week, Bronson decided to not move forward with a plan to purchase the former Alaska Club building in Midtown and use it as a shelter. While multiple assembly members still favor the idea, Bronson said Wednesday that he does not plan to revisit or change his decision.

“We have some plans which we’ll come public with here in the very near future, and how we adapt to this and again, we’re really encouraged that this is high ... on the list for for the assembly and we’re really looking forward to working with them on a complete solution over time for this problem that’s been plaguing our city for a lot of years,” Bronson said.

Oct. 1 is the proposed closing date of the temporary emergency mass care facility inside the Sullivan Arena.

On Wednesday, assembly member Meg Zaletel said electing to stay in a holding pattern now could set the municipality up for greater success later on.

“The winter can be a continuation of FEMA funded mass care, whether that’s at the Sullivan arena, a different municipal facility or a combination thereof, and we’ve done that, and we’ve done it successfully,” she said. “That lets us continue to get FEMA reimbursement, doesn’t shift our plans significantly while we consider these new paths forward and also would let us pilot some of these ideas, you know. If we don’t believe we’re doing a navigation center correctly right now at the Sullivan, then let’s do it. Let’s try it while we’re already stood up there.”

Zaletel said determining a path forward will need to include conversations with hockey teams and other groups who are planning to use the Sullivan Arena starting in the fall.

“One idea is could they play at the Ben Boeke Arena? Yes, it would maybe be less capacity, but let’s have that conversation, what does that look like for them?” she said. “If that’s a non starter and we really need the Sullivan to spur Anchorage’s economic recovery out of COVID, then we need to look at relocating the mass care, but we had already had it in different locations, so it’s not an insurmountable task.”

She said after September, FEMA reimbursement for the emergency mass shelter and other non-congregate shelter drops from 100% to 75%, but the state has told assembly members it will pick up the other 25%.

“The mass care transition plan from the former administration was, you know, to utilize the Alaska Club building as part of the transition out of the Sullivan,” Zaletel said. “It would be great to turn the Sullivan back to its regular operations, but if it’s that or a rushed tens of millions dollar project, I think we ought to stay the course — take our time — because we’ll come out further ahead in the long run.”

Also on Wednesday, Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance and Vice Chair Christopher Constant issued a news release announcing plans to work with the new administration to find a solution.

“This issue has challenged administrations for decades and Mayor Bronson’s commitment to a bold effort, coupled with his willingness to build a unifying proposal, bodes well for our city,” Constant is quoted as saying in the release.

The next meeting of the Assembly Housing and Homelessness Committee is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Wednesday, July 21 inside the Anchorage Assembly Chambers.

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