Trash, camping outside leads to tension between Anchorage neighborhood and those staying at Sullivan Arena

Published: Nov. 4, 2021 at 5:29 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Once the site of hockey games and concerts, the Sullivan Arena now houses hundreds of people experiencing homelessness in Anchorage. It was a temporary solution when the pandemic began, but it has remained the only solution until long-term plans to help people come to fruition.

It’s also led to growing tension between people who stay at the Sullivan Arena and residents of the surrounding neighborhood.

“We need to all come together as a community, and a city, and say we’re not leaving it to one street to pick up the rubbish, we’re not leaving it to one street to deal with this situation, we’re not leaving it to one small, poor community to take on this,” Gillian Tribble said.

Tribble lives on Eyak Drive and is the self-described neighborhood clean up team who sets off with a garbage bag at least twice a week to pick up garbage.

“I’m the street walker, pick-up chick,” Tribble joked. “I walk the streets and I pick up the trash.”

She says she’s picks up about three bags of trash on her small street every few days — everything from cigarette butts to old food and clothes with the tags still on. She says it’s just about everything one can think of.

“Oh good lord. I’ve picked up needles, I’ve picked up ... There’s an electrical box up there and apparently somebody set up a bar,” Tribble said.

99 Plus 1, a recently formed for profit organization, operates the shelter.

This past Monday, Anchorage Health Department Director Joe Gerace led a pre-planned tour through the Sullivan Arena for reporters. The shelter was orderly and calm at that time.

“You can see I don’t see a lot of trash,” Gerace said about the inside of the shelter. “It’s clean. This is a normal, what I would expect to see from the shelter.”

In response to an email to the mayor’s office asking if 99 Plus 1 is supposed to clean up the property around the arena, spokesperson Corey Allen Young replied: “no.”

Rene Kennicott has lived on the street for about 30 years. She says she’s never seen conditions like they are now.

“It makes me really sad that we have to live in this and that I have to drive through it to get home,” Kennicott said. “I have to live in it every day, all day long.”

On Monday, the Anchorage Assembly unanimously supported the proposed strategy that calls for several smaller shelters throughout the city, in combination with the several existing privately-run shelters. But that won’t happen until next summer.

Until then, the shelter will remain at the Sullivan Arena at least through December.

Tribble says she has prayed with unhoused people who walk past her house.

“I don’t think the homeless actually want to be in the Sullivan,” Tribble said.

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