Anchorage — The backers of Karluk Manor, a former hotel converted to efficiency apartments for chronic, homeless alcoholics, are considering moving the facility from Fairview to Mountain View and expanding the operation to serve more people.
Karluk Manor opened in December 2011 at Fifth Avenue and Karluk Street, between two of Anchorage's busier streets, Fifth and Sixth avenues.
There was substantial opposition from the Fairview Community Council and nearby businesses. Some said the concentration of social services and institutions serving street inebriates was already overloaded in that area.
"Nobody was all that excited about that particular location," said Jeff Jessee, director of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, one of the organizations that contributed money to start Karluk Manor. "The reason we ended up there was because it was available and the owner was willing to discount it and take a tax benefit."
The facility is run by Rural CAP.
After a year at Karluk and Fifth, Rural CAP is not eager to move just to change locations, said Kenny Scollan, an executive of the organization.
"We are pretty happy where we are," Scollan said.
But if an opportunity arises to serve more people -- up to 80 instead of 46 -- at a new location, and if the organizations that contributed to Karluk Manor agree, Rural CAP would consider the move, Scollan said.
So that's the proposal -- a bigger building in a spot someone found off Commercial Drive.
Karluk Manor is the city's first big project under an approach called Housing First. Street alcoholics get a long-term home whether they are ready to stop drinking or not. The approach has successful in other cities Outside.
And it's clearly doing some good here, Scollan said.
"People are slowing down on their drinking. Emergency calls are down," he said. "Our guys come home almost every night. They're sleeping here, not at the sleep-off center."
Mayor Dan Sullivan supports relocating and expanding Karluk Manor and has met with agencies involved to help explore the proposal further.
The idea developed after Paul Fuhs and other members of the Fairview Business Association, whose members think Karluk Manor is in a poor location, began looking around town for other sites.
Fuhs was mayor of Dutch Harbor and was state Commerce Department commissioner under the late Gov. Wally Hickel.
Fuhs found 20 acres of public land -- part state-owned, part city-owned -- in a woodsy area bordered by Commercial Drive, Reeve Boulevard and Viking Drive.
"It's just a much better location," Fuhs said. "It would reduce the impact on the community."
The site contains a snow dump and a state warehouse but still has enough land for a Rural CAP facility, Jessee said.
The agencies involved have talked to Housing First groups Outside -- people at the Eastlake project in Seattle, and one in Duluth -- and learned that 80 tenants is about the maximum for a successful Housing First operation, Jessee said.
The chance to design a facility just for this purpose is an advantage, he said. If it's designed right, "You really only need one person" to manage access to the building, whether it has 46 tenants or 80.
"I'm really excited about this," Jessee said. "Everybody is sucking it up a little. Rural CAP devoted a lot of resources and energy to the Karluk project. But it's such a unique opportunity to improve the project."
Jessee estimates it would cost $8 million to $10 million to build the expanded version of Karluk Manor.
Some of the money would come from selling the existing facility, which he guessed would be worth "a couple million."
Copper River Seafoods, which has two buildings right next to Karluk Manor, wanted the old hotel -- the Red Roof Inn -- before Rural CAP closed the deal to buy it. Copper River is still interested, said Robin Richardson, chief development officer for the firm. The company does a lot of training and would use the building for training and housing workers.
Rural CAP could also try to get a legislative appropriation to pay for part of a new facility, Jessee said.
The Mountain View Community Council wants to know more about the proposed move, said Daniel George, council president: "We do wonder how it would fit into Mountain View's plans."
Mountain View, also home to some of the city's social services agencies, has been undergoing renovation for years.
The community council wants to be part of the decision-making process, George said.
"Rural CAP is a good operator," he said. "We have no problem with that."
At Karluk Manor's current location, the neighbors know they can call and get a response if they have problems with any Karluk Manor residents, Scollan said.
Heidi Heinrich, manager of the nearby Lucky Wishbone restaurant, said that's true.
But she said an entire network of social services draws street people into the area -- the sleep-off center, Bean's Cafe, Brother Francis Shelter, the jail and Karluk Manor.
"I've worked here 33 years and I gotta tell you, it's the worst it's ever been," Heinrich said. "It's lewd. It's way more aggressive. I have people dropping their clothes and having sex in the back parking lot."
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