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Anchorage Assembly approves contract renewals for homelessness services

Published: Dec. 31, 2021 at 7:00 PM AKST|Updated: Dec. 31, 2021 at 7:55 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A $5 million emergency ordinance was approved at the Tuesday night Anchorage Assembly special meeting, the funds from which will go toward contract renewals for homelessness services in the municipality that would end Dec. 31. The contracts are renewed until March 2022 for services like security, medical and meals for those experiencing homelessness, with the goal of being reimbursed by the federal government.

The original emergency ordinance proposed taking the $5 million out of the Areawide General Capital Improvement Projects Fund, but assembly member Meg Zaletel made an amendment to have the funds come out of the Areawide General Fund instead as an inter-fund loan.

This has happened the last several times additional funding has been approved for homelessness services.

“So what we did is took the $5 million out of our savings and that leaves those $5 million from the CARES Act to go towards the getting out of the Sullivan Arena and setting up this system for the homeless,” assembly member John Weddleton said, explaining that the $5 million in the capital improvement projects fund is meant for advancing the city’s plan to transition out of the arena.

“COVID-19 response is typically funded out of the Fund Balance of the Areawide General Fund and then later reimbursed by the federal government or by the state with pass-through federal funds,” Zaletel’s amendment stated. “There is no reason to deviate from this established process.”

Each time the funding issue has come up and the assembly has amended the funding source to come from the general fund, some members of the administration and assembly have pushed back on that.

“We cannot continue down the path of utilizing inter-fund loans, that is detrimental to our financial picture and it’s gotta stop,” said Anchorage Chief Fiscal Officer Travis Frisk.

Assembly member Crystal Kennedy agreed and says the assembly is spending more money than they are getting back, and then asked the Municipal Manager Amy Demboski how much money has much has been reimbursed so far this year.

“Last week I was advised by the director of OEM that we received an additional $5,316,010 of COVID-19 reimbursement which will end 2021 with a total of $36,501,622.50,” Demboski said.

Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said approving this $5 million for continued homelessness services won’t change a thing.

“The (inter-fund loan), we would in fact not change the status quo at all because just this week the reimbursement was $5,316,000 and we are looking at a far outlier reach of $5 million and so that means the net position doesn’t change at all, and so that’s status quo, that’s not deeper into any hole,” Constant said.

The assembly also increased funds for the homelessness services at the Sockeye Inn under this ordinance.

Weddleton said the owner has stopped taking reservations, meaning more rooms have opened up for medically fragile people experiencing homelessness. That has increased the allocated costs for services at the site from $66,000 to $165,000.

“As soon as we learned, once that proposal for 20 beds came forward, turns out that there’s actually room for 50, so we increased the funding to get 50 in there,” Weddleton said. “So that really moves us forward much more quickly on this plan to get out of the Sullivan.”

The Rasmuson Foundation closed on the purchase of the Sockeye Inn on Friday, securing the hotel as a new place to serve homeless individuals in Anchorage as the city looks to move away from mass care at the Sullivan Arena by June 2022.

“It’s designed to serve the most medically fragile, at-risk part of the homeless population,” Rasmuson CEO Diane Kaplan said on Friday. “So really, the people who should not be at the Sullivan Arena.”

The nonprofit closed on the deal before the end of the year, allowing them to use about $2 million in CARES Act funding available through Native corporations that were partnering in the purchase. The agreement isn’t finalized yet, but Kaplan said it sold for a good price, below the asking price.

Kaplan said they plan on moving people from the Sullivan Arena right away as they settle into the new location over the next couple of months. The current owners have agreed to stick around and operate the Sockeye Inn for the next three months as they make the transition. Doyon, Limited donated beds allowing the shelter to house two people per room and serve more than 120 people.

“This will be the first of several facilities that we will be purchasing and setting up for long-term care, long-term housing with services for people who really need them right now and can’t get access,” Kaplan said.

She added Rasmuson is moving ahead very quickly on the purchase of the Barratt Inn, which is the next targeted property in the city’s strategy to transition out of the Sullivan Arena.

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

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