Assembly votes to increase Sullivan Arena capacity to 360 beds

Concern and frustration over the Bronson Administration’s handling of the issue did not fracture consensus over whether or not to expand the shelter
Assembly votes to increase Sullivan Arena capacity to 360 beds
Published: Dec. 20, 2022 at 11:21 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly passed a resolution Tuesday night to expand the Sullivan Arena’s capacity to 360 clients total. The vote by the body allows for the increase of capacity to continue to the end of January 2023, and to include several reporting requirements.

The passing vote, however, did not come without concerns that Mayor Dave Bronson‘s administration had failed to plan for a watershed of negative consequences of the expanded temporary housing on its clients, nearby residents, and the Fairview neighborhood.

Assembly members voiced growing frustration with Bronson at the meeting that the Sullivan Arena was unable to single-handedly operate as the primary low-barrier shelter for Anchorage’s homeless population. New concerns arose over the “warming center,” a small space housed inside the Sullivan, that is open around the clock but does not offer the amenities — such as beds — that the main room of the shelter does.

Assembly member Chris Constant said he believes the warming center constitutes a capacity increase already, and that the Tuesday night vote is a rubber stamp of approval on the mayor’s choice to go ahead and move more homeless clients into the arena.

“There’s no physical way one could argue they are not inside that building, that shelter,” Constant said. “The difference is, they made the decision to violate the code... they made the decision to treat them differently, after violating the code ... a choice to leave them without a bed, without services.”

Assembly member Forrest Dunbar pointed to the cyclical nature of issues with the arena and shelters in general.

“If we chose a different direction in 2021, we would be out of the Sullivan, I believe, six, eight maybe 10 months ago,” he said, “because we would have other facilities where people could be humanely housed, treated, and not again be back here in an unacceptable facility that frankly is a disgrace... and we all know it.”

Member Randy Sulte said it was a joint effort that’s led to the current state of affairs in Anchorage.

“This has been politicized,” he said. “And the homeless are paying for it with their lives. We all have a part in where we are.”

It is not year clear how the growing Sullivan Arena clientele might continue to be supported, including for services such as food provisions, now that the same amount of resources will be consumed by more homeless individuals and families than ever.

Bronson on Tuesday also deflected questions about the swift replacement of the now-former Municipal Manager Amy Demboski with Kent Kolhase, a move announced Monday morning in a two-sentence news release and short tweet. He said Tuesday that it was an “HR matter,” and that he could not comment at this time.