Anchorage residents question decision to use community rec centers as homeless shelters

Some community members are concerned Anchorage rec centers may be used as emergency homeless shelters
Published: Sep. 12, 2022 at 6:05 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s plan to turn community recreation centers into emergency homeless shelters is rubbing some people the wrong way.

The administration says the Fairview and Spenard Rec Centers provide the most practical options to get people housed quickly and be able to provide meals, showers, and bathrooms. But some who use the centers are urging the administration to look elsewhere. Kathleen Grace plays pickleball at the Spenard Rec Center and says the facility is well-used by the community.

“Look at the basketball, look at the badminton, look at the volleyball, look at the squash, and everything else that goes on here, and maybe more so even in Fairview,” Grace said. “What a shame if they’re not going to have access for the people that use these.”

Fellow pickleball player Susan Lindquist agreed.

“Why don’t you use someplace that’s empty, as opposed to someplace where we play pickleball and after us, teenagers come in and play basketball,” Lindquist said. “So it’s being used in a very healthy way for our community and I think it should stay that way.”

The rec centers, they say, provide a vital service for local neighborhoods and, in some cases, the whole city. That includes the first indoor accessible playground that opened with fanfare at the Fairview Rec Center in March. They’re the types of amenities some don’t want to lose, especially during the winter. But the approaching winter is a central part of the problem. Beans Café and Children’s Lunchbox Director Lisa Sauder understands the difficulty of attempting to find housing for over 300 homeless Anchorage residents.

“It’s a hard decision, right. We know people have to have shelter or they will die,” Sauder said.

Sauder said the immediacy of finding low-barrier shelters that can house people will necessitate hard decisions. And although she isn’t taking a stand on the rec centers, she pointed out that the Fairview Rec Center was successfully used as an overflow homeless shelter when the Sullivan Arena was full in the winter of 2020.

“But it worked out well, and it did provide a safe, warm place for people to be 24 hours a day,” Sauder said.

The administration said the rec centers will open as emergency shelters on Sept. 29. Transportation will be provided from the Centennial Campground for those who wish to go. The low barrier shelters will be open 24 hours a day and can house up to 150 people at each location.