Anchorage

Anchorage Assembly, mayor’s team roll out new compromise on homelessness

Members of the Anchorage Assembly and the administration of Mayor Dave Bronson debuted a new compromise plan to tackle homelessness in Anchorage that would create multiple, smaller shelter and housing options targeted to subsets of the population of unhoused people.

“Frankly, it’s a better plan than we presented a few months ago,” said John Morris, the city’s homeless coordinator, during a homelessness work group meeting held at the Anchorage Assembly chambers Tuesday afternoon. “I think it’s a great path forward.”

The hybrid plan is the result of an intense, monthslong negotiation process between Assembly members and the mayor’s office to come up with both a short-term sheltering plan that would allow for the closure of the Sullivan Arena emergency mass shelter, as well as a long-term plan to address homelessness in Anchorage.

Key elements of the proposal include:

• A 200-bed shelter for single adults with the capacity to house more in winter, possibly at a site on Tudor and Elmore where the Bronson administration earlier proposed building a shelter more than double that size, or a separate site on Bragaw Street.

• Roughly 200 beds for elders, women, couples, LGBTQ people and other “special populations.”

• Around 150 beds of medical convalescence care.

• Around 68 beds for addiction treatment and housing.

• More than 300 units of permanent supportive housing for working homeless people.

• Use of the city’s already established shelters.

• Facilities and housing would be distributed throughout the city, rather than concentrated at one site.

The plan would involve constructing or renovating spaces for short-term “navigation center” shelters, but also providing hundreds of units of permanent housing for people.

The idea is “ending homelessness, not just sheltering people,” said Belinda Breaux, one of the facilitators.

“This solution also starts you to bringing down the population in Sullivan Arena as each element of care is turned on,” Breaux said.

[74 homeless people have died outside in Anchorage since 2017. New data shows what’s behind their deaths.]

Assembly member Pete Petersen referenced a Daily News report showing that 17 homeless people have died of hypothermia on the Anchorage streets over the past five years.

“It shows the importance of what we are doing here, the urgency,” he said.

Many details are undecided, including an exact timeline for when each element would be built, exact sites and how the projects would be funded.

The plan looks to federal grants, bonds or tax levies and philanthropy or private investments to cover capital costs. Operating costs could be covered by the city’s alcohol tax, Medicaid reimbursements, federal Housing and Urban Development funding, rental assistance vouchers, philanthropic donations and the Anchorage Health Department operating an overnight shelter, according to the initial plan.

Representatives from Weidner Apartment Homes and the Rasmuson Foundation, two potential private and philanthropic donors, spoke in support of the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting.

The next step is for a resolution to be introduced to the Anchorage Assembly, and then for a public hearing, likely on Oct. 27, said Assembly member Meg Zaletel.

“We have to make sure we have the will of the body and the community to move forward with the exit strategy,” she said.

Initially, in June, the Bronson administration proposed constructing large, 450-bed shelter on police department property at the corner of Tudor and Elmore roads, an idea that didn’t gain traction with the Assembly.

The negotiation process included three Assembly members and three representatives from the Bronson administration.

The deal represents a moment of cooperation between the Anchorage Assembly and the mayor at a time when city meetings have been consumed with divisive testimony over a proposed Assembly masking ordinance.

When the process started, “obviously we didn’t agree,” said Larry Baker, a member of the Bronson administration team.

“In my 40-50 years involved in public service, this is one of the finest efforts I’ve seen,” Baker said. “I want to take my hat off to members of the Assembly.”

Assembly member Chis Constant said the compromise was proof that the Assembly and administration can work together.

“In my estimation, this relationship ... is the healthiest example of our two bodies of government working together,” Constant said. “Think of where we started.”

“This whole conversation should provide you with some hope,” he said.

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