Anchorage Assembly designates $6M for homeless shelter design, buildings purchase

Published: Dec. 9, 2021 at 6:48 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly voted unanimously this week to set aside $6 million for the design of a possible homeless shelter and possible purchase of two hotels as it works to advance the city’s new plan to address homelessness.

Some called it the first step in the mass care exit strategy for people experiencing homelessness. The city’s new plan for housing Anchorage’s homelessness population was unveiled in October and calls for several smaller shelters throughout the city.

The plan was formalized through compromise between members of the assembly and Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration, who worked together for weeks on a negotiation team with a third-party facilitator after clashes between the two groups over the administration’s original plan for a mass shelter and navigation center.

The assembly passed a resolution in November supporting the new plan to transition homelessness services out of the Sullivan Arena.

“It’s not just a plan and a direction, we’re actually going to do something here,” said Assembly Member John Weddleton at Tuesday’s assembly meeting. Weddleton is one of the assembly members who sits on the negotiating team.

The $6 million set aside by the ordinance passed Tuesday will be going into a big pot that Weddleton said will be matched by some other businesses to help move the mass care plan forward. About $2.8 million will go toward the design of a facility that could hold up to 200 people, with the surge capacity to hold another 130 people when needed.

The city’s passed measures this past summer that limit the capacity for shelters in Anchorage’s general business zoning district to 150 people. Shelters larger than that would need to obtain a variance.

Another $3.2 million would go toward the potential purchase of two local hotels — the Barratt Inn in Spenard for workforce and long-term housing, and the Sockeye Inn for people with medical needs.

“Although, honestly there are a few things in here that I don’t agree with, I believe that we have a process that we can now move forward with and that as we go through, which we’ve done in the past many times, is we change things and I feel very confident this is the direction we do need to go right now,” said assembly member Jamie Allard.

The potential shelter for single adults with a navigation center would be slated to be located at the Tudor Road and Elmore Road in East Anchorage. That’s the same location originally selected by the Bronson administration for its mass shelter and navigation center plan that was shot down by the assembly.

“We’re not on a trajectory that’s years away, we’re on a trajectory that is mere months away,” said assembly member Meg Zaletel.

The next step is moving the medical fragile out of the Brother Francis Shelter, assembly members said, so they are able to house more than 100 people experiencing homelessness and then also send out requests for proposals for the new shelter.

“There’s a request for proposals going out in the next few days that just says, OK, we need something for 200 that would be designed so in a crisis we could have maybe 130 more as part of a surge system, but not really designed for that, and room for navigation,” Weddleton said. “And it could be the, you know, kind of like a sponge shelter ... could be any type of design. It’s just out there, show us what you can build folks.”

The municipality’s goal for standing up other shelters and transitioning out of the Sullivan Arena is this June because that’s when it is anticipated that the federal government will no longer be reimbursing services for mass care from the COVID-19 pandemic. For the time being, Bronson is working to move medical staff back into the Sullivan Arena.

“We’re also working with Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center to restart onsite care at the Sullivan Arena,” Bronson said during Tuesday’s meeting. “Medical doctors will be onsite multiple days per week to provide care.”

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