The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday voted to wait until later this month to decide on two changes to the municipality’s approach to homelessness: expanding where shelters can be located and requiring them to get a city license.
Assembly members unanimously voted to take up both proposals at their June 22 meeting.
Earlier in the meeting, in a 5-5 vote, the Assembly narrowly voted against waiting to take up the shelter licensing ordinance until after Mayor-elect Dave Bronson takes office in July, as some Assembly members and residents had urged.
The Bronson administration will present its homelessness plan June 15 at a special meeting of the Assembly’s housing and homelessness committee, according to member Meg Zaletel, who chairs the committee.
Assembly members who back the two ordinances argue Anchorage urgently needs to expand its shelter capacity, especially as the city prepares to transition away from using Sullivan Arena as a mass shelter this fall. The land use code change would give the city more options to do that, they say, while the licensing requirement would help protect neighborhoods and businesses near where new shelters would be located.
The proposal to expand where homeless shelters can be sited into areas zoned as “B-3” business districts, rather than only in “public lands and institutions” zoning districts, has encountered resistance from some residents concerned about neighborhood impacts.
Also, some homeless service providers have raised concerns that the licensing requirement would make it more difficult for them to operate. The requirement would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, as the proposal is currently written.
Pastor John LaMantia of the Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission, an organization that has been vocal in its opposition to the shelter licensing requirement, on Tuesday testified against the ordinances.
“I love what I do. I need the blessing of this Assembly to ... keep doing just what I’m doing unobstructed,” LaMantia said.
Assembly members Zaletel, Christopher Constant and Assembly Vice Chair John Weddleton, sponsors of the shelter licensing ordinance, have made some changes to the legislation after hearing input from the public and shelter providers.
For example, the ordinance now makes it easier for the city to give shelters a waiver on requirements surrounding background checks on people working or volunteering with shelter clients, if it “demonstrates it has an appropriate alternate method of ensuring safe operations.”
At least one shelter provider, the Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission, had said it was concerned about language surrounding background checks in the licensing ordinance, noting that a number of its workers had been convicted of “barrier crimes” but had been through a recovery program.
The Assembly will also consider multiple amendments to the shelter licensing proposal at the June 22 meeting.