The administration of Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz wants to turn a shuttered halfway house near the Delaney Park Strip downtown into housing for homeless seniors, which officials said was the next step in moving the city's homeless off the streets and out of emergency shelters.
At a Wednesday meeting of the Anchorage Assembly's homelessness committee, city homelessness coordinator Nancy Burke said the administration is in talks with the private corporation that owns the former Parkview Center about a lease.
She said the building could provide housing for more than 50 homeless seniors who live in the shelter system, and help the city learn more how those people first became homeless.
She said the cost of the project wasn't yet known.
The proposal drew a heated reaction from downtown Assembly member Christopher Constant, who complained that too many government-subsidized projects for the city's long-term homeless are being directed to his district.
The Parkview Center halfway house at 831 B St. closed in October. The private corporation that owned and operated the halfway house, GEO Reentry Services, has since approached the mayor's office about leasing the building, Burke wrote in a memo to Berkowitz.
As a longtime correctional institution, the building already contains furnishings and could quickly house dozens of seniors older than 55, Burke wrote in her memo.
Burke said the project would fit into broader efforts to reduce the number of people who are aging in the city's shelter system and are considered some of the most vulnerable.
Constant said Wednesday it's hard to argue with housing for homeless seniors. But he said the project would be part of a system of correctional institutions, sleep-off centers and emergency shelters funded by the government in his district. He said the government money should be directed to other parts of town.
During the meeting, Constant read out loud a letter from a Fairview resident frustrated with crime, vandalism and other problems in the neighborhood. In the letter, the man said: "The city keeps putting more services for troubled people downtown."
Others who attended the meeting said those problems are widespread in the city, and could be curbed by converting the halfway house on B Street into homeless housing.
"I get that you don't want to put everyone downtown, but you need to not keep complaining about it and come up with those solutions," Doug Lamkin, the director of facilities for NeighborWorks Alaska and the president of the Building Owners and Managers Association, said to Constant during the meeting.
Burke said the administration's project puts a former halfway house to a better use.
"It's an immediate opportunity for (homeless seniors), literally saving lives," Burke said.
She said the people who are not housed are the ones creating problems.
Earlier in the meeting, Burke had clicked through a PowerPoint presentation that illustrated extensive data being collected on the city's homeless through a newly launched initiative. That includes a list of 711 names of people considered the city's most vulnerable homeless.
Under federal guidance, the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness has been designing a system to track and prioritize housing for the people at the top of the list.
Burke also reported that a recent count found a roughly 60-person drop in the number of homeless adults on Anchorage streets over the past year, from 902 to 840.
She said it was a sign of progress, though Weddleton, the South Anchorage Assembly member, wasn't so sure.
"I always worry about your range of error — you say, gosh, we're down, but your range of error is probably 100," Weddleton said. "Who did you count? Which areas? What was the weather?"
Burke and Lisa Aquino, the executive director of Catholic Social Services, acknowledged that there are problems with the approach of a single-day count.
"I hope in a year or 18 months that we're going to be talking about real-time data," Aquino said.
Also during Wednesday's meeting, Constant proposed changing city law to allow community councils to be organized along "nongeographic" lines. He said the idea would be to create a community council for the homeless.
"Mostly, those folks don't participate," Constant said.
He said he wanted to allow the city's homeless to "develop an organization, a self-driven organization that can speak." A draft of his proposal has not yet been reviewed by the Assembly's lawyer or formally introduced to Assembly members.
The city ombudsman and former homeless coordinator, Darrel Hess, said he thought the idea was a good one, but putting it in place would be difficult.