Municipality says Ben Boeke is best choice for a temporary homeless shelter

Published: Mar. 15, 2020 at 9:53 PM AKDT
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The Municipality of Anchorage is working on a plan to convert the Ben Boeke Ice Arena into a temporary homeless shelter during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The advantage that Ben Boeke brings is it’s something that’s available relatively rapidly,” said Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. “It’s a place where we can not only house people or put shelter over them, but we can also feed them.”

The arena was selected out of a range of options following a meeting between the Municipality and various homeless support service providers.

“It was clear that there was a need for an additional space so that we could have proper spacing between people,” said Catholic Social Services CEO Lisa Aquino. CSS runs Brother Francis Shelter, the largest homeless shelter in Anchorage.

Aquino said the proper spacing recommended by the CDC is 6 feet apart, a threshold shelters normally don’t accommodate when they’re at maximum capacity.

“In the Winter, when we need to get 240 people inside, those mats are right next to each other,” she said.

The city estimates they’ll be able to house 240 people in the Arena while meeting the distance requirement. A number of other venues, including the Sullivan Arena, were considered, but the Boeke was eventually chosen as the fastest option.

“We looked at hotels, we looked at convention centers, we looked at other municipal facilities,” Berkowitz said. “But this is the one that we could put into action the quickest.”

He added that the municipality is planning to connect other support services with the temporary shelter to try and get people off the streets more permanently.

“We’re also going to take advantage of this opportunity to try and connect these people who are homeless to the support services that are necessary to move them into a more stable living situation,” he said.

Berkowitz said the shelter wouldn't impact the hockey games normally played in the arena. The arena was already closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The ice has been lifted up already,” he said. “The arena was closed for the season.”

The municipality is still finalizing the details, but it likely won’t be long until the arena’s doors open up as a shelter.

“We expect that we can complete this transition within the next week,” Berkowitz said.

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