Mayor Bronson reverses course on using rec centers as homeless shelters

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson is no longer looking to use community rec centers as homeless shelters
Published: Sep. 14, 2022 at 10:07 AM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2022 at 6:01 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Almost two weeks after introducing a plan to use two Anchorage recreation centers as homeless shelters, Mayor Dave Bronson has pulled the plug on the idea.

The plan to use the Spenard and Fairview rec centers was initially brought up as the last resort in a four-pronged approach unveiled by the Bronson administration on Aug. 31. The idea was introduced at a special Anchorage Assembly meeting on Sept. 7.

Later the administration said the rec centers had become the first choice for shelter locations, with a plan to open them on Sept. 29 for up to 150 people in each location.

At Tuesday’s regularly-scheduled Assembly meeting, Bronson announced that his team will no longer pursue the use of the two rec centers as shelter locations.

“We have listened to concerns from the public and assembly members and will be working with the emergency shelter task force to find appropriate shelter options that meet the needs of our city’s most vulnerable,” Bronson said.

But as the weather turns colder and a Sept. 30 deadline to close Centennial Campground where an estimated 200 homeless people are staying draws near, those options may be dwindling. Assembly Member Felix Rivera — who is a member of the emergency shelter task force and head of the Assembly’s Housing and Homeless Committee — said many possible sites simply aren’t available.

“The task force did do an extensive look at 90 different properties, right. I mean we looked at a lot of different properties and we just got turned down,” Rivera said. “The owners are looking at selling to particular individuals. They don’t want it to be used for this particular use as an emergency shelter, so I think a lot of the properties we were looking at were taken off the list.”

Rivera said the task force is now looking primarily at municipally owned buildings that meet the criteria of being able to provide food, shower facilities, and be available 24 hours a day. The list of potential facilities includes the Ben Boeke Ice Arena, Dempsey Anderson Ice Arena, Sullivan Arena, Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center, Egan Civic and Convention Center, and the former Golden Lion Hotel. An additional two private sites include the former Alaska Native Charter School and the Arctic Rec Center — although neither of those locations would be available for immediate occupancy.

Rivera cautioned that no decisions have been made, but emphasized that the city is facing an emergency.

“We are legally and morally obligated to find a solution,” Rivera said. “We will find one that will have the least impact possible to the neighbors to whatever facility we choose, and look forward to have a lot of robust discussion with the community.”

The task force is expected to present its recommendations to the administration and the assembly on Sept. 21.