Questions linger about homeless housing when Sullivan shelter closes

Published: Jun. 2, 2022 at 6:11 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As the June 30 deadline for the Sullivan Arena to cease operations as the only mass care emergency shelter for homeless Anchorage residents rapidly approaches, many who have been working on the issue of housing the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic are questioning what the next steps moving forward will be.

Since the Sullivan Arena opened as a mass care emergency shelter in March of 2020, it’s racked up some big bills. The Anchorage Health Department estimates shelter operating costs at $1 million per month. The time period that the federal government will reimburse the city for is running out, according to Mayor’s Spokesperson Hans Rodvik. Rodvik said that’s a big reason the shelter needs to close its doors.

“Once July 1 comes around, FEMA has said that they are not going to be reimbursing,” said Rodvik. “So the muni would be on the hook for 100% of those costs.”

However, many are questioning the timing of the move. The city’s new navigation center — a 150-bed shelter to be built near the intersection of Tudor Road and Elmore Road — isn’t scheduled to open till later in the fall. That’s left some wondering where the 320 people currently staying at the Sullivan Arena will go at the end of June. Anchorage Assembly member and Executive Director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness Meg Zaletel wants to know what will happen to the hundreds of homeless Anchorage residents during that time.

“What’s the plan?” asked Zaletel. “Will they become unsheltered? Is another temporary location going to be developed? Those are a lot of the things we need to know because we are working actively to house as many people as possible, but if there’s nowhere for them to go at the end of June we could lose touch with them.”

Zaletel said she recently sent the mayor a number of questions about his transition plan for the shelter. Rodvik said the administration is confident they will find space for everyone who needs it.

“We are going to be working with community partners,” Rodvik said. “The Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, United Way, the Rasmuson Foundation, and a lot of the other preexisting providers — Catholic Social Services and the like — to help make sure that the residents in Sullivan are taken care of on a client-by-client basis, and make sure they’re put into housing options that meet their needs.”

Some of those needs are likely to include drug and alcohol treatment services. In an emailed press release, the mayor said he is willing to consider the former Golden Lion Hotel, a property the city currently owns that he once threatened to sell.

“I have asked the facilitation group guiding the mass care exit to recommend the best option to providing substance misuse treatment centers in Anchorage to address current community needs,” the release states. “The Mayor’s evaluation will consider all possible options including 1000 E. 36th Avenue ( formerly, the Golden Lion).”

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