New requirements slow rebuild of housing for inebriates

HOUSING FIRST: Facility for street alcoholics should be ready to use next winter.

November 28, 2010 

Efforts to turn an old motel into Anchorage's first big housing program for chronic street alcoholics are moving along, but the facility won't be ready for its first residents this winter, say officials in charge.

A private social services agency bought the Red Roof Inn earlier this year and in August won city approval to transform it into Karluk Manor -- 48 efficiency units with private bathrooms, microwave ovens and mini refrigerators.

The project, at Fifth Avenue and Karluk Street, is controversial because it will serve homeless alcoholics whether they are ready to stop drinking or not, an approach known as Housing First that has been successful in other cities.

A number of Fairview residents and businesses argued against it, saying their community already has a concentration of social services for the homeless and that it's scary when street people show up in people's carports or yards or pass out in snowbanks. But others say the program is needed and may help curb the problem by giving people a safe, warm place to stay.

The city Planning and Zoning Commission in August approved the required permit but included conditions that will add an estimated $600,000 to the project's cost, said Melinda Freemon, director of Anchorage services for Rural CAP, the agency behind the project.

Among the extra items are an elevator and a heated driveway or walkway between the two buildings at Karluk Manor.

The operational costs also will be higher than expected because the commission required RuralCAP to have at least two staff members on site around the clock, and to serve meals to residents seven days a week, she said. Rural CAP had planned to have between one and four staff members on site, depending on time of day, and wasn't originally going to serve meals on weekends.

The agency now is raising money to cover the extra costs, Freemon said. It also is working to get office space on site ready for managers.

"As early as possible, we want to offer safe and permanent housing to people. But we have to be in compliance with the changes, and adding an elevator is a significant change," she said.

Karluk Manor should be ready by next winter, at the latest. "If it's before that, it will be terrific," she said.

Rural CAP already has begun to monitor and help clean nearby Fairview Lions Park, as required under its permit. The park has been a gathering place for homeless alcoholics.

The period for groups or individuals opposed to the project to appeal the decision granting the permit ended Oct. 4. No one appealed, said a city planning supervisor.

Among those against the project was the Fairview Community Council, which is trying to make Fairview more appealing to new residents.

"There's still a lot of bitterness in the neighborhood," said Sharon Chamard, community council president. "I think that many of us realize now that we made a good effort, we weren't successful, so now we have to say well, 'the best thing we can do is to continue to move forward.' "

The council is looking into executing formal agreements with major social service agencies in its area, including Rural CAP, to lay out a process to deal with problems quickly, she said. The agreements could also require the social agencies to be regular members of the council, and not just show up when they want something. Rural CAP has been involved the last few months, and already has shown it is willing to work with the community, she said.

"We don't always win every battle," Chamard said. "Some people say this will actually be good for the neighborhood; it will get some of these folks off the street. I would be delighted if that happened. I am not convinced it will, but I try to keep an open mind."


Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.

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