Homeless navigation center questioned by assembly members

Homeless navigation center still has question surrounding by assembly members
Published: May. 12, 2022 at 7:52 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) -The Anchorage Assembly is now committed to spending roughly $6. 2 million to construct a homelessness navigation shelter in East Anchorage. However, some assembly members are hoping their vote doesn’t lead to buyers’ remorse.

The resolution for funding the project passed narrowly with a 6-4 vote at Tuesday night’s assembly meeting. Members detailed a laundry list of concerns they had with a project, but with a need to address the long-term homelessness issue in Anchorage, some members took what they called “a leap of faith” and voted yes.

On Tuesday night, when members of the public came up to the podium to give their thoughts on the resolution, the temperature in the room did not seem to be that warm for it. West Anchorage assembly member Kameron Perez-Verdia acknowledged and commented on the response the project is getting from the community, which he said was concerning.

“I’d love to have people coming up and testifying from the business community saying ‘this is a great idea,’ or from the philanthropic community, or from the nonprofit community,” Perez-Verida said. “I haven’t heard them come forward.”

Perez-Verdia also had concerns about the location of the project, feeling it was not central to where people dealing homelessness are, and followed up with questions about transportation. He also worries about the impact it would have on the surrounding area.

“My real concern is is that with lack of infrastructure in that area where do people go? As I imagine this, knowing that are really well, someone gets in a bus and goes they go the two or three miles there, they get out, they have a cup of coffee, they get something to eat, maybe take a shower, they talk to a navigator of some kind, where do they go,” said Verdia. “...Is there a plan in place at this point, at least an initial plan for how we are going to manage that surrounding area and the impact that that will have to the businesses and the forest area.”

The West Anchorage assembly member said later he couldn’t vote yes for the project as there are “too many outstanding questions” for him.

Others had concerns about the cost of the project. The Bronson administration estimates the construction of the project to be over than $10 million, but the annual operating budget of roughly $5 million was met with skepticism.

“The project is in its conceptual phase in many ways, and I don’t believe it will be $5 million a year to operate,” Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said.

Others had concerns about staffing the facility with many businesses already dealing with employee shortages.

“It’s not just here. It’s like this in the Lower 48, so trying to recruit them for the Lower 48 could be problematic,” assembly member Pete Petersen said.

However, with plans in place to stop mass care for the homeless at the Sullivan Arena by the end of June, some assembly members said time is of the essence. South Anchorage Assembly Member Randy Sulte said, “if we ignore a problem, I guarantee you it only gets worse. So we have to do something.”

Eagle River-Chugiak Assembly Member Kevin Cross added, “The Sullivan Arena can’t continue to be a homeless shelter. It wasn’t built to be a homeless shelter, that is part of the reason it is so stinking expensive.”

Assembly Youth Representative Sarah Price said she and other Anchorage youth are concerned about the issue, and homelessness does not come “without a cost.”

She added safety has become a “big concern.”

“Parents often do not let their kids out and go into Anchorage to have fun. Many parents don’t even allow their kids to go to the library anymore because of the homelessness problem,” Price said.

At the end of the night, the deciding factor for some assembly members may have been Larry Baker, who is a consultant for the Bronson Administration. He promised the assembly that he would do everything in his power to make the project work.

In a release from Hans Rodvik of the Bronson Administration they said:

“Last night’s vote was the culmination of more than nine months of bipartisan work to address homelessness in Anchorage. The Municipality of Anchorage is now armed with a bold, comprehensive strategy to reintegrate our less fortunate neighbors into society. We thank each member of the Assembly for their many hours of thoughtful work that ultimately led to the passage of this historic resolution.”

Baker anticipates the150-bed homelessness navigation shelter to be be admitting people by late July.

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