Anchorage Assembly tackles food insecurity and homelessness at meeting

Assembly tackles food insecurity and homelessness at meeting
Published: Sep. 26, 2023 at 11:02 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - From dealing with food security to providing adequate funding for shelter for Anchorage’s vulnerable population this winter, the Anchorage Assembly addressed a wide range of issues Tuesday night.

The Assembly approved a resolution to request that the Federal Trade Commission intervene to block the proposed merger of Kroger and Albertsons. Assembly members fear the merger could lead to the closure of stores in Anchorage and threaten basic food security in the municipality.

“I do believe that we need to support addressing antitrust issues in our country, you know, monopolies, oligopolies, having only one company that is owning all our major grocery stores in the state, that does present a lot of issues,” Assembly member Anna Brawley said. “I have concerns about how it will impact workers. I have concerns about consumer prices, and just generally, I think competition is a good thing.”

The Assembly also approved many items Tuesday that dealt with the city’s homelessness dilemma.

One of those items was a grant agreement between the Municipality of Anchorage and Catholic Social Services in the amount of $1.2 million. The money will be for the organization’s complex care shelter facility which assists medically fragile homeless individuals. The facility can house 83 individuals, but its waitlist is currently 37 people.

“So it’s staffing, it’s program supplies, everything that we need to actually keep the doors open,” said Robin Dempsey, chief executive officer of CSS. “Our capacity is pretty much set. We have a specific number of rooms and that really is what dictates the number of people that we can serve.”

As the municipality approaches the winter months, Assembly members said there is an urgent need to provide congregate sheltering for the community. The Assembly approved a contract in the amount of $400,000 with Covenant House to provide shelter for up to 25 transition-age youth for the winter season.

The Assembly also approved a resolution to dedicate roughly $970,000 in unused alcohol tax funds and American Rescue Plan Act funds to the Anchorage Health Department for emergency cold weather sheltering this winter.

Assembly member Felix Rivera said the money will be dedicated to sheltering from October through December, but some unused funds could roll over into 2024.

Housing and Homeless Coordinator Alexis Johnson said funding for January through April will be identified when the new budget cycle starts.

At the meeting, Johnson informed the Assembly how much it would cost to fund this winter’s emergency cold weather shelter plan.

“Four hundred people seeking shelter at $100 a day, times 76 days up until December of this year, leaves us at a budget of $3.04 million,” Johnson said. “Then going into January of next year through the end of April, you’re looking at 400 people seeking shelter at $100 dollars a day, at 120 days of shelter, that’s $4.8 million.”

The resolution was amended to appropriate $50,000 of the funds to the health department to hire a contractor for third-party oversight of the emergency cold weather shelter plan.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the Assembly’s Legislative Services Office created a spreadsheet of the municipality’s appropriations on housing and homelessness going back to 2016.

The Assembly said residents can follow the money and see how it is being spent by going to the Focus on Homelessness page on the Municipality of Anchorage website.