Anchorage Assembly limits capacity of proposed shelter to 150, postpones vote on funding

The Anchorage Assembly has postponed voting on a $6.2 million funding request for the city’s proposed homeless shelter and navigation center until May 10.
Published: Apr. 29, 2022 at 3:18 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly has postponed voting on a $6.2 million funding request for the city’s proposed homeless shelter and navigation center in East Anchorage to May 10, but did vote to limit its capacity after getting new project details from Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration.

The proposed project at the heart of the municipality’s plan to transition away from the emergency mass care implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic has been much debated. During a Thursday night special meeting, the assembly got a host of new details from the administration, after several members of the body and the public had asked for more information.

The assembly voted to postpone making a decision on the administration’s $6.2 million request for constructing the facility until its May 10 meeting, citing the need for more time for both assembly members and the public to review the new project details. Those details include a new presentation on the facility and an almost-300-page document on the overall shelter and navigation center plan.

The presentation provided details surrounding the construction, operation and costs of the potential navigation and homeless shelter. Members of the assembly said it was the first time seeing a lot of the information presented at the meeting.

A potential construction schedule was presented, and it had the build-out for the interior of the navigation center slated to be completed in November. The municipality is looking to transition out of emergency mass care at the Sullivan Arena by June 30.

“So that’s our worst-case scenario planning for the timeline,” Anchorage Health Department Director Joe Gerace said. “We will be looking for an accelerated timeline with the contractor ... we have multiple pieces to the interim plan.”

The presentation went on to lay out an interim plan for where to house people in the gap between standing down the Sullivan Arena and constructing the shelter and navigation center. It detailed hotel room space, room at the Covenant House for clients under 25 and veteran-specific options, along with relying on community partners for additional placement.

The total construction budget presented during the Thursday night meeting was $11.9 million, higher than previously estimated.

The assembly did vote to pass a different resolution at the meeting that outlines the goals for the navigation center and shelter. According to the resolution, the municipality will commit to reducing homelessness using a “housing first principle,” and only keep the shelter portion of the facility open for two years, while leaving the navigation center running.

Assembly members also voted, while amending that resolution, to limit the shelter’s capacity to 150 beds, with surge capacity for 50 more. The previous capacity had been a 200-bed shelter with surge capacity to fit 130 more.

“The 330 surge capacity has been a very difficult number,” Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said. “And I am much more comfortable with the number of 200 for the shelter.”

Assembly member Forrest Dunbar proposed the capacity limiting amendment, saying that the assembly has heard from subject matter experts that smaller shelters work better for the people they serve.

“We see what is happening at the Sullivan Arena,” Dunbar said. “We know that is far too large, far too concentrated.”

There was also discussion about limiting the footprint of the facility, but members including Kevin Cross, the new assembly member representing District 2, along with Jamie Allard, were in favor of downsizing the capacity while keeping the footprint intact.

“I like the idea of intending to operate with a smaller population but leaving the facility the same size in case of emergency,” Cross said. “Because there may be another time we have another earthquake or we have something, and I’d rather know that we have that surge capacity, an emergency space immediately available.”

Additionally, the assembly amended the funding resolution — before postponing it to May — to include a stipulation that Bronson’s administration includes “a firm written commitment to make a good faith effort” to operate the former Golden Lion Hotel in Midtown Anchorage as a substance misuse treatment center. Member Austin Quinn-Davidson, who proposed the amendment, said it’s needed to fill a gap in services.

“I don’t want us to conflate homelessness with mental health or substance misuse, but there’s obviously some overlap so I think it’s important to be considering all of these needs at the same time,” she said.

Allard and Cross supported adding that caveat to the project’s funding.

“This just isn’t for the homeless, it’s for an entire community and we need to make sure that everybody has access to this facility,” Allard said.

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