Homeless residents return for first full day at the Sullivan Arena shelter

Homeless residents return for first full day at the Sullivan Arena shelter
Published: Oct. 3, 2022 at 7:56 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Sunday was the first full day for many homeless residents who have returned to the Sullivan Arena.

The venue is once again being used as a temporary homeless shelter after many residents were given space this summer at a campground at Centennial Park in Northeast Anchorage.

Saturday, people were bused to the Sullivan from Centennial Park. By Sunday night, the electricity and water at the campground are said to be off.

The Sullivan Arena is only set to take in 150 people for now, although the municipality’s housing and homeless coordinator asked that capacity be doubled to 300 people.

There are limited options for those who did not end up in the arena. Laura Carrizales is part of the support staff at the Sullivan Arena and said she’s feeling a lot of emotions coming back to the “Sully.”

“Oh, so much love! So many hugs, we’re trying to bump fists and elbows but we can’t help but hug,” Carrizales said.

With the Centennial Park campground closure being so recent, resident numbers aren’t that high yet, but that’s expected to change, according to support staff.

Some staff at the Sullivan Arena say campers from this summer are also allowed to have dogs at the shelter, a change that was instituted after the municipality realized that having pets was a barrier that kept many people from moving into the arena the first time around.

Niki-Lynn Butcher is also part of the support staff and the Sullivan Arena and she says she’s been there since the beginning.

“We’ve got some dogs coming in, which before, we had people sleeping outside with their animals because we didn’t take animals, so that’s monumental in some people’s lives,” Butcher said.

Among the provisions at the Sullivan are dinner services. Staff said the hope is that breakfast and lunch will be options in the near future too, along with a functioning clinic.

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson also recently introduced a proposal to increase the capacity at the Sullivan arena as potential legal setbacks with the golden lion have come up, but not everyone sees the idea as a good solution.

“I don’t think I will be able to support the mayor’s proposal to increase the Sullivan Arena to 300 people, it’s just too much, but I am interested in having a conversation about meeting in the middle and figuring out a way that we can increase possibly up to 200, which I ultimately think is the ceiling we’ll ever go again in the city for a shelter,” Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said.

The Anchorage Assembly and the mayor’s administration have much work to do, but so far, the teamwork at the Sullivan Arena is a great start, the staff say.

“We shed tears with them,” Butcher said. “... We’re not just here for a paycheck. We’re here because we care.”