Anchorage Town Hall meeting unveils new homelessness plan to the public

Anchorage City Hall.
Anchorage City Hall.(Jeremy Kashatok/Alaska's News Source)
Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 5:03 PM AKDT|Updated: Oct. 20, 2021 at 10:31 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - After a long back and forth that led to the use of a third-party facilitator, the Anchorage Assembly and members of Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration appear to be in agreement about their latest plan to transition people out of the Sullivan Arena and house those experiencing homelessness long term.

A light crowd turned out the Wilda Marston Theater in the Loussac Library on Wednesday night for a town hall meeting to hear about the latest plan from a group made up of assembly members and members of the city administration. Both sides worked on the new plan with the help of a facilitator that the assembly voted to bring in after the administration’s original pitch for a mass shelter failed to get support.

“We all know what the problem was. We share the same goal, different ways to get there,” said John Weddleton, one of three assembly members on the committee. “There are many ways to improve the situation and what we have outlined here, I think is, you know, a pretty good design.”

Dr. John Morris, the Administration’s homeless coordinator said the proposal includes both an exit strategy for moving people out of the Sullivan Arena, and a plan to house people throughout Anchorage in a combination of smaller shelters the city would stand up and existing privately-run shelters.

Morris said the new plan is better than the one the administration originally proposed that included constructing a large “navigation center” near Tudor Road and Elmore Road that could sleep upwards of 450 people. The new approach is more client/community focused. Morris said that means having different types of facilities for the different types of people experiencing homelessness.

“So we’re committed to doing a census, counting the number of folks … that fit into each of the different types of tailored treatment and support systems,” Morris said. “And making the facilities the right size for the different groups.”

In general, that means smaller types of shelters spread throughout the town, Morris explained. The current proposal also includes two larger shelters of 200-plus beds each, about half the capacity of the Sullivan Arena. Some of the sites under consideration include the former Johnson’s Tire on Denali Street, the old Pacific Northern Academy building on Bragaw Street, the former Alaska Club on Tudor Road, and two sites on Elmore Road, including where the original mass navigation center was planned.

“There’s been divisions between the administration and the assembly, and we found an issue that crosses the entire community,” said Larry Baker, Bronson’s senior policy advisor. “And we very effectively have worked together for the good of the community.”

Morris said whatever is eventually approved, it will be a big change for the municipality to be directly involved in trying to address homelessness.

“This is the municipality taking ownership of a problem in partnership with existing charities that have been doing great work for many years,” said Morris. “But the municipality is going to take a big stake in this — going to put money into it, people into it — and we need to commit as a community to do that.”

The assembly also has a resolution that confirms and supports the strategy moving forward. Public testimony and a possible vote will take place at their Oct. 27 meeting.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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