Anchorage

Cots, water and other services return at Anchorage mass homeless shelter after tumultuous transition

Anchorage’s largest homeless shelter experienced a tumultuous transition on Thursday when a new contractor took over. But by Friday, Sullivan Arena had been cleaned, new cots were in place, showers were open and jugs of drinking water were available.

99 Plus 1, a year-old, local for-profit company, took over operations at the city’s Sullivan Arena emergency shelter on Thursday from Bean’s Cafe, a longtime Anchorage soup kitchen. Bean’s had been operating the emergency shelter since March 2020.

Clients in the shelter on Thursday awoke to upheaval, and little access to drinking water and other needs as Bean’s pulled all its equipment and supplies like cots out of the shelter. Clients hadn’t been able to access showers for a few days as Bean’s demobilized its operation and the new contractor took over.

At the Sullivan on Friday, city worker Robert Seay said that clients volunteered to help to assemble the hundreds of cots on Thursday night and that people were able to sleep by about 10 p.m.

Visit Healthcare is also scheduled to arrive at the shelter on Tuesday to conduct COVID-19 testing on site, he said.

Laundry service was not yet back online, though Zachary Zears, 99 Plus 1′s shelter manager, said it would be soon. The shelter needed to get the correct laundry detergent for the washing machines, he said.

Zears also said he expects a navigation team to start working on Monday. Navigators help connect shelter users to other resources and longer-term housing opportunities.

Many people dozed beneath blankets on their new cots on Friday afternoon. The piles of litter that had been scattered around the arena on Thursday were gone.

One man who slept in the upstairs mezzanine said that the new staff seemed to care and to be trying hard to do a good job. But he’d visited a doctor on Thursday and returned to the shelter to find all of his belongings, including his prescription medications, were missing. He said staff had searched and had not been able to find them yet.

On Thursday, shelter staff had put everyone’s belongings into new bins and moved them off the arena floor so it could be deep-cleaned.

On Friday, the mayor’s office provided a statement in response to a question about why the city did not coordinate a longer, more smooth transition.

“We could not extend the Bean’s contract and by the time the procurement process was completed available time was limited. Of note, we stood up the Sullivan/Ben Boeke initially in about a week as well. The Bean’s contract did not have a transition period specified because we envisioned at the state of the pandemic it would be demobilized much sooner and existing shelter providers would increase density to meet the needs of the clients we support,” Corey Allen Young, spokesman for the mayor, said in an emailed statement.

The city’s request for proposal went out on Aug. 16, just one month before Bean’s contract ended.

The Sullivan mass shelter operation is an emergency protective measure and not a regular, enduring program, Young said.

“We initiated the RFP as soon as we could define the ongoing need relating to COVID beyond expiration of the current contract,” he said.

Young also said that 99 Plus 1 has enough staff available to “sustain operations at the Sullivan Arena.”

Meals are still being provided by Bean’s Cafe.

On Friday, CEO Lisa Sauder said that Bean’s would continue delivering meals for the next two weeks in response to a request from the city to extend that service.

“We’re willing to do because we want to make sure everybody is provided for,” Sauder said.

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