Municipality of Anchorage, Rasmuson Foundation close in on purchase of Sockeye Inn as homelessness plan progresses

Published: Dec. 20, 2021 at 8:34 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Municipality of Anchorage’s new plan for housing Anchorage’s homeless population was unveiled in October and calls for several smaller shelters throughout the city. Making this plan a reality starts with the purchase of the Sockeye Inn, aided by a public-private partnership.

Rasmuson Foundation CEO Diane Kaplan said an offer has been accepted. According to plans by the city, the inn will be used as a homeless shelter specifically for those experiencing medical needs.

Earlier this month, the Anchorage Assembly set aside $6 million for shelter design and the possible purchase of the Sockeye Inn along with another local hotel, the Barratt Inn in Spenard, which would be used for workforce housing and long-term housing.

“We are making concrete steps to move forward in kind of getting people out of the Sullivan Arena and out of the other, what we call mass care facilities,” said Anchorage Assembly member John Weddleton.

The municipality and the Rasmuson Foundation are getting ready to close on the purchase of the Sockeye Inn on Fireweed Lane by the end of this year, where those experiencing homelessness with medical needs will be moved in.

“These folks who need this specialized type of care don’t really work well if you put them in a general, single adult shelter,” said assembly member Felix Rivera. “Oo I think it helps make things more efficient, possibly save money if we just put folks in a facility where they’re gonna get the best help possible to transition them out of homelessness.”

The Rasmuson Foundation said the hotel is currently housing people that were in mass care and will expand the number of rooms available for those people following the purchase. Kaplan has visited the Sullivan Arena and described several of the people staying there as having significant medical needs.

“I was at the Sullivan Arena, week before last, and there were 600 people, just about, stayed that night,” Kaplan said. “It’s set up for 400 people. So there were people sleeping in every spot that was possibly available there. ... There were people who were blind, people who were disabled, elderly people, people with extreme medical issues, so first priority is to get a humane place for those people to live right now.”

Most of those with medical needs are being served at the Brother Francis Shelter. Once they are all moved to the Sockeye Inn, Brother Francis will be able to house other people experiencing homelessness, rather than those with medical needs, as the municipality continues to transition away from its current mass care strategy.

According to the foundation, the Sockeye Inn is “in good shape” and does not need major renovations.

“If we pull the high needs medical people out of Brother Francis, then Brother Francis can go back to being kind of a low barrier shelter carefully within the occupancy levels that they managed well,” Weddleton said.

Once the Sockeye Inn is closed on, the Rasmuson Foundation said the Anchorage Health Department mass care branch will then need to contract with an operator for rooms, meals and staff to work with individuals.

“I really think the fact that the assembly and the administration were able to come together around this plan and start moving in earnest towards getting people out of mass shelter — which is proven not to be a good strategy with this population, especially very fragile people — is a good indication that the people of Anchorage feel very strongly that homelessness is on the top of the list of priorities that they want our elected officials to address,” Kaplan said.

The Rasmuson Foundation said numerous organizations have stepped up to assist with the different projects in the works, as different types of organizations are restricted by varying rules related to tax codes or appropriations laws. Of the $6 million set aside by the assembly, about $3.2 million was set to go toward the purchase of the two hotels.

From the private sector there are financial pledges from: Cook Inlet Region Inc., Weidner Apartment Homes, Providence Health & Services Alaska, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. The Alaska Community Foundation is holding the funds while the Rasmuson Foundation works with the city and others to make the project come to fruition.

The foundation goes on to say that others are expected to make pledges as well. In 2019, the Rasmuson Foundation joined with three other private funders in an investment of $40 million to try to tackle the issue of homelessness in Anchorage over five years.

“The initiative is growing to include other funders, nonprofit provider organizations and the Municipality of Anchorage to address needed improvements in providing services to people experiencing homelessness,” according to a release put together by Communications Manager Lisa Demer.

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