Shelters at capacity, with past Sullivan Arena clients seeking shelter

A large number of people are looking for a place to stay after the Sullivan Arena homeless shelter closed to everyone except the most vulnerable.
Published: May. 4, 2023 at 6:47 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - For many unsheltered Alaskans, the question of where to go for the night has limited answers.

Anchorage homeless shelters are seeing a wave of people utilizing their services following the closure of the Sullivan Arena shelter and eviction of all but its most vulnerable residents. David Rittenberg with Catholic Social Services is working to house as many people as possible.

“People are wet and they’re cold, and they’re scared, and they want to come inside — and unfortunately the community doesn’t have enough space right now,” Rittenberg said.

“Each day we have a lot of people that are coming by, trying to access shelter that unfortunately we do need to turn away due to capacity. Speaking to staff, just on one shift, we have 20 to 30 people asking for shelter,” Rittenberg said.

All Catholic Social Services-operated shelters are now at capacity. Rittenberg adds that the need for shelter is so great, when space becomes available, it is immediately taken by the next client.

“We might have two to three beds open up each day, but we get those filled up really quickly,” Rittenberg said.

The Downtown Hope Center has seen an increased number of clients — at least 20 women a night — who need shelter.

“We house 50 women a night, normally. And right now, we’re at 67 and we been over 70 in the last week or so,” women’s shelter director Vickie Drussell said.

One night this week, Downtown Hope Center housed up to 75 women. Most of the new arrivals, according to Drussell, have came from the Sullivan Arena.

“The higher number is because there is absolutely nowhere else for the women in Anchorage to go. This is it. This is the only shelter in town that will take them,” Drussell said.

Drussell said she does not want any women to sleep outside, and that the shelter will not turn away any women who need a place to sleep.

“I woke up yesterday on the street. And I woke and I came in at 2:30 a.m. and they welcomed me in,” client Alexandria McKinley said. “I have somewhere safe to sleep. It doesn’t matter what time I come in, they’ll welcome me in.”

A place to stay, a warm meal and care are all building blocks towards finding permanent housing, according to those working to end homelessness.