Assembly, Bronson administration could soon unveil new proposal for sheltering Anchorage’s homeless population

Three assembly members and representatives of Bronson’s administration are using professional facilitators to develop the proposal.
Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 6:06 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Through regular meetings with third-party facilitators, three Anchorage Assembly members and representatives of Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration are working to develop a plan to address homelessness and hope to agree on a winter sheltering proposal by the end of the month.

This process comes after the assembly essentially killed a $15 million request from Bronson’s administration last month to build a 450-bed homeless shelter and “navigation center” by winter.

Anchorage Assembly Vice Chair Christopher Constant and members Meg Zaletel and John Weddleton are part of the private meetings with the Bronson administration and facilitators Belinda Breaux and Tom Barrett, a retired U.S. Coast Guard officer and former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The facilitators shared and update on the process Wednesday during an Anchorage Assembly Committee on Housing and Homelessness meeting.

“So far I think there’s been honest, open communication about what the problems are and what we have to focus on, some of the issues that have to be addressed,” said Craig Campbell, Bronson’s chief of staff. “So, at this point, the administration is comfortable with the process.”

Breaux gave a presentation on the decision-making process the group is working through, and shared the two “problem statements” they’ve produced to guide the discussions:

  1. “What is the best alternative for mass care of adults experiencing homelessness for the 2021/2022 winter season?”
  2. “What are the best long-term interventions to address shelter and navigation services gaps in the current continuum of care for adults experiencing homelessness in Anchorage?”

According to a decision framing document shared with assembly members, “The shared goal of the parties to the decision-making process is that homelessness in Anchorage be a rare, brief and one-time experience.”

On Wednesday, some assembly members raised concerns about the process.

Assembly member Forrest Dunbar said he will not support any ordinance or resolution that recreates a mass care facility in any neighborhood in Anchorage, and wanted to know how he can share input in the discussions without violating the open meetings act, which requires a meeting of more than three assembly members to be done in public.

As they stand, the negotiation meetings include just three assembly members and therefore can be done in private.

Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson raised concerns about the timeline and wanted to know whether there would be opportunities for the public to weigh in on the proposal before an assembly vote.

Assembly member Jamie Allard said she feels resentment over what she believes is a lack of balance in the ideas of the three assembly members who are part of the meetings.

“I just want to make it clear on record that you don’t represent me, you don’t represent the district, and I find it extremely rude and bold that three individuals think that they can just go in and negotiate everything,” Allard said. “... I do feel like it’s behind closed doors and I just don’t appreciate it.”

Assembly chair Suzanne LaFrance spoke against calling the meetings “negotiations.”

“I don’t think that’s accurate,” she said. “I think it’s a collaborative effort and I think that we should get rid of the word negotiation all together. We all know as members of this legislative body that anytime something is on the floor, it takes on a life of its own. And if you don’t like it, you make an amendment, or you bring (a substitute) version, or you try to compel the other members to support it.”

Constant and Weddleton said it’s clear that the assembly members participating in the meetings only speak for themselves and do not have the authority to represent the assembly.

“Is it behind closed doors? Not really,” said Weddleton. “We bring this forward and the world gets to see it, comment on it, vote it up or down, and amend it. None of us are there saying we represent anyone but ourselves. It’s a normal process going on here, but a very complex issue so we’ve got facilitators helping us do a really good job on it.”

The group has set a goal of Aug. 30 for reaching a decision on a winter shelter plan with the intention of bringing a resolution to the assembly on Sept. 14. Additionally, they hope to reach a decision on a long-term shelter and navigation strategy by Sept. 15.

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