Vulnerable clients evicted from Sullivan Arena unsure where they will go next

On Wednesday, after around 8 months of being in operation, the doors to the Sullivan Arena mass homeless shelter closed.
Published: May. 31, 2023 at 6:53 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The once crowded stadium floor at the Sullivan Arena, where hundreds cots laid side by side, is now empty. As some of the last clients at the shelter pack up their bags and waited this afternoon outside the arenas doors for a ride.

Municipality of Anchorage Homeless and Housing Coordinator Alexis Johnson said it was “bittersweet.”

“You know from my standpoint, we would have liked to see people continue to be sheltered. But I also know that this arena was made not for people experiencing homelessness but for people who are engaging in sports.”

After around 8 months of operation, the doors to the Sullivan Arena mass homeless shelter closed on Wednesday. The shelter previously housed up to 360 clients at its max capacity this year, but at the end of April the Anchorage Assembly approved an extension of the Sullivan Arena for clients that face mobility or cognitive disabilities.

The extension only allowed for the shelter to house a maximum of 90 clients. Johnson said the the Sullivan housed around 70 clients with mobility issues and during the past month, the shelter worked with clients to help them find housing.

“The last month just has really been just a rigorous effort to try and get this population housed or into a sustainable long-term place for them,” Johnson said.

But for some, finding housing is still a struggle. Michael Hammer was one of the clients allowed to stay at the Sullivan through May.

“There’s no place to go,” Hammer said. Hammer was unable to find alternate housing and is now back on the streets.

“There’s nowhere to go. And it’s 45 degrees. It’s supposed to be an emergency shelter, and there is no emergency shelter,” Hammer said.

Johnson said other housing arrangements were done through the Department of Veterans Affairs, Downtown Hope Center and individual landlord and tenant agreements.

On Wednesday, officials watched their 32 remaining clients leave the shelter for a final time as cars help transport some of their last clients to their new residences

Johnson said not all clients were receptive to housing solutions pitched by her staff.

“It’s their choice and their opportunity to take us up on that choice, and they did not follow through on that. And so, we did have some people that will not be sustainably housed,” Johnson said. “Last night I was told it was around 20 individuals but it looks like today a lot of people realizing that the deadline, the closing of the Sullivan (is now) did self-resolve.”

Shelters across Anchorage are currently at or near residential capacity limits. Downtown Hope Center — who increased their numbers to 70 — is at full capacity. ICatholic Social Services said they are seeing their shelters reach capacity nightly.