Sullivan Arena closes as emergency shelter

Alaska's News Source Producer Ellie Baty brings you the FastCast daily digital headlines for June 30, 2022.
Published: Jun. 30, 2022 at 5:14 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s a day some people have waited for and worried about — on Thursday, the Sullivan Arena closed its doors as an emergency homeless shelter more than two years after accepting its first pandemic guests.

Between 60-75 people spent Wednesday night at the shelter according to Shelter Manager and City Health Department employee Robb Seay. Busses began arriving as early as 8 a.m. to transport people, and Seay said operations went smoothly.

“A lot of people thought they were just going to be out on the streets and that’s just not the case,” Seay said. “As you can see, there’s nobody out here looking for a place to go, so I think that by and large, people are pleasantly surprised, maybe unexpectantly surprised, with how available resources have been for them on this last day.”

However, there weren’t many choices available. Seay said a bus full of clients headed to the Aviator Hotel which had a few last-minute openings. Others went to the Centennial Campground in Muldoon, which the city has repurposed into an emergency spot for homeless campers. The city said 49 people had been transported to the campground over the last week, although others had arrived on their own.

It’s a concern for Owen Hutchinson, the director of external relations for the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, who said the group is worried about several things at the campground including security, how many people will stay there, and if they’ll be permitted to extend their stay beyond the two week period the city initially provided vouchers for.

“ACH’s concern is that, how do we plan for food, how do we plan for water, how do we plan for sanitation without an understanding of how many people are allowed there and for how long,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said the group would also like to see a plan for how the camp will ultimately be demobilized.

In the meantime, nonprofits are helping out, providing tents, water, and food for people at the campground. City officials say outreach efforts there will continue to try and help people find more permanent housing.

Catholic Social Services Executive Director Robin Dempsey said that more shelter beds may also open up and that the Complex Care Facility in Midtown will open a new floor next week that will add 30 beds, not all of which are spoken for. Dempsey said the Brother Francis Shelter, which is currently at capacity, is also considering adding more beds. But she cautioned that would entail obtaining funding and more staff, which means it isn’t likely to happen in the near future.

Anchorage Health Department Director Joe Gerace released the following statement on the closure:

“If there’s one take away from this past six months, it’s that the people of Anchorage care deeply about solving homelessness. As of today, more than 500 units of housing and shelter are being utilized that did not exist prior to the pandemic, three navigation centers are in the works, and more than 200 shelter and substance abuse treatment beds are slated to open this fall. It’s no exaggeration to say that this is the largest housing effort our city has ever seen since this crisis began.”

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