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Mayor Bronson shares view on tackling the homelessness crisis, working with current assembly

Where does the working relationship stand?
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: Sep. 8, 2021 at 5:35 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Mayor Dave Bronson and the Anchorage Assembly have many items on their respective agendas, but conflicting views on the plan to address the city’s homelessness crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought additional strife into an already unsteady relationship.

In a one-on-one interview with the mayor on Tuesday, Bronson shared his side of the city’s progress on housing its homeless population, recent differences of opinion with the assembly and other issues that affect Anchorage citizens.

As negotiations between the Bronson administration and assembly continue to form a plan for winter shelter for those experiencing homelessness, the mayor said he is receiving updates every couple of days from Dr. John Morris, who is tasked with negotiating the administration’s position on homelessness with the working group. Anchorage Assembly Vice Chair Christopher Constant commented last week that the group has been getting plenty of feedback.

“We have been hearing lots of input from the community: neighbors, residents, community councils, stakeholders, operators of shelters, individuals who have experienced homelessness, all of it,” Constant said. “We are definitely hearing robustly from the public on this question at this time ... the public is engaged.”

The administration hopes to see something similar to their original plan for mass, single-shelter navigation center once proposed to be at the corner of the East Tudor Road and Elmore Road intersection earlier this summer. The funding request for that proposal was rejected by the assembly, with some members citing a lack of thorough planning for the proposal.

The mayor estimates that the municipality will have at least 1,000 houseless people displaced and seeking shelter and assistance by the winter season. The working group is eagerly anticipating the draft results scheduled to be presented to the Anchorage Assembly at their next regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday. Working group member and assembly member John Weddleton noted last week that a larger capacity shelter is not off the table.

“The 450-person site off of Tudor and Elmore is still in play,” Weddleton said. “It’s not an unrealistic option. But also we have some smaller sites and it could be any combination of a few smaller sites.”

The mayor also expressed hope that the Sullivan Arena will once again be home to semi-professional hockey, but he said the highest priority is ensuring people do not freeze to death, citing the moral component to the homelessness dilemma.

Outside of these discussions, the Bronson administration is seriously considering adding a daycare center at City Hall, in hopes of accessing a greater base of skilled workers at the municipality — especially young mothers. There is no date or deadline on this potential addition, but the administration believes City Hall has the capacity to fit a daycare because of excess office space within the 145,000 square-foot building.

The mayor does not believe that the assembly voting not to confirm his pick for the city’s library director and the veto override vote on the new Houseless Lived Experience Advisory Board will deter his legislative agenda and goals while working with the Anchorage Assembly. But he did not mince words, stating that Sami Graham was “grossly overqualified” for the library director position.

Graham has two masters degrees — one in educational leadership and one in science in counseling — but she does not have a degree in library science, which is a required qualification for the library director position.

Following the assembly’s vote on whether to confirm Graham, Bronson immediately announced she would be his new chief of staff.

“I’m a politician,” Bronson said. “I expect to be attacked and when I wake up in the morning (and) I’m not being attacked by those that oppose me, I get nervous. But when you attack my people that are on my team, that’s a whole different thing. And when they turned down Sami, that was a sea change in how we’re going to go forward with the assembly.”

The mayor went on to praise Assembly members Jamie Allard, Crystal Kennedy, Constant and Weddleton for what he sees as the right judgment on the vote.

“But at least I now know who I have to deal with and how. That’s actually a good piece of information because the irrationality of not confirming Sami Graham was way beyond the pale,” Bronson said. “You don’t attack my people without paying a price.”

Bronson went on to explain why he believes there is a staffing shortage at hospitals, suggesting that Alaska does not attract enough health care workers due to the state nursing license requirement that he said stops registered nurses from easily transitioning to the state’s health care system. The mayor said he supports the reciprocity of nursing licenses from state to state, which he conceded is a state legislative issue; however, it’s one policy item he believes will attract healthcare workers to Alaska.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy last month announced efforts to help relieve stress on Alaska’s health care system, which included expediting the the process for licensed health care providers to work in Alaska facilities.

In addition, he also suggested that the requirement by several Alaska hospitals for employees to become vaccinated against COVID-19 has worsened the staffing shortage.

“I’m not against vaccines. In fact, if you’re elderly or you have a lot of comorbidities it’s probably a good idea,” he said. “I don’t compel people to get vaccines. If they want to, I support it. If they don’t, I support that as well.”

When making the decision to require vaccines, hospitals have cited the safety of their staff and the people they take care of as a primary driver.

Bronson said that his administration must continue to improve by sharing information with the public coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, Stanford Medical, Harvard Medical and Yale Medical.

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