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Midtown assemblywoman proposes redirecting $2.4 million to homeless services

  • Author: Aubrey Wieber
  • Updated: November 19, 2019
  • Published November 18, 2019

Tents are covered with leaves in a homeless camp along the Chester Creek greenbelt Wednesday, Sept 25, 2019 in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

An Anchorage assemblywoman is pushing to cut into the mayor’s proposed budget to allocate $2.36 million for more services for the homeless.

The proposal surfaced Friday, days before the Assembly’s Tuesday vote on Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s 2020 budget.

The city currently spends $500,000 for 150 shelter beds on a one-time basis from October to April. Assemblywoman Meg Zaletel wants to use $1.3 million to fund the shelter beds until April 2021. And rather than a one-time appropriation, she wants to make it an annual service.

“That’s really been the gap we’ve had,” Zaletel said.

Another $1 million would be spent on day shelter for 150 people at the Brother Francis Shelter, as well as a day shelter for another 150 people at a second, not-yet-determined location. Zaletel said she wants the money not spent at Brother Francis spent on resources in her Midtown district.

Zaletel said Midtown has a significant homeless population, and is near the trail system and medical services.

"Midtown needs those resources,” Zaletel said.

To scrape together the $2.36 million to fund homelessness services, Zaletel is proposing a 0.962% cut to the overall 2020 municipal budget, which would exclude cuts to Anchorage’s fire and police departments.

Zaletel has provided another proposal that also exempts the public health department and library.

Jasmine Boyle, executive director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, called the proposal “brilliant.” She received a lot of emails about it over the weekend, all supportive of the amendment, she said, which tackles a real problem. In addition to addressing homelessness in Midtown, more shelter beds make it easier to clear the homeless camps that pop up around town, she said.

Zaletel’s last-minute change throws a wrench into Berkowtiz’s otherwise uncontroversial budget proposal. The Assembly will consider the amendment at its Tuesday night meeting, when it votes on the city’s final budget.

Assemblymen Kameron Perez-Verdia and Chris Constant are co-sponsoring the amendment.

Constant, who represents downtown, has long been supportive of spreading resources throughout the city.

“It’s crystal clear that more services are needed,” he said. "It can’t all be in one place.”

There isn’t a proposed location for the services in Midtown yet, but Constant said allocating funding will be the “spark” to get the project going.

Zaletel said Berkowtiz’s team favors revisiting the idea in April during first-quarter budget adjustments.

“I think we are philosophically aligned," Zaletel said of the response from the Berkowitz administration. "We maybe aren’t aligned on timing.”

First-quarter budget revisions happen in April, the same month the shelter bed funding would expire. Zaletel thinks addressing the issue in April disrupts services.

Constant said the Berkowitz administration reached out to him about keeping the budget as-is.

"I believe they are very much in support of the budget they proposed,” he said.

Kristin DeSmith, a spokeswoman for the Berkowitz administration, declined to comment on Zaletel’s amendment.

Boyle, of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, said people are currently required to leave the downtown shelters at 6 a.m. and often have nowhere to go but the Loussac Library in Midtown. She said there’s a need for a place for people to go to search for a job or do laundry when the overnight shelters are closed.

Community members in Midtown have been vocal about wanting services in the area, Boyle said. Whether it’s panhandling or people loitering on street corners, the problem is obvious, she said.

Zalatel said residents aren’t feeling safer, and that the issue lies with visible homelessness.

“We need to address the issue. It’s on everyone’s mind. It’s vital for us to have peace of mind as a community,” Zalatel said.