Following pushback from the public and elected officials, Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration has rescheduled the second public meeting on a proposed 200-person homeless shelter and navigation center in East Anchorage.
It will now be held on Monday, April 25, the day before the Anchorage Assembly is scheduled to vote on millions in funding for the project. Previously, the administration had scheduled the meeting for two days after the Assembly’s vote, timing that members of the public and some Assembly members criticized, saying residents should be able to give feedback before the vote.
The East Anchorage shelter is a key part of the city’s plan to stand down its COVID-19-era emergency mass care operations at Sullivan Arena and non-congregate shelters by June 30, while expanding longer-term homelessness services in Anchorage. Less than 11 weeks remain until the deadline.
So far, the Bronson administration has shared sparse details about the planned operations and services at the proposed East Anchorage shelter. Members of the public have asked for more information about its interior design plans, safety plans and contingencies and the construction process.
Residents and some community councils have called for more transparency and public involvement, expressing concerns about potential impacts to nearby neighborhoods and for the wellbeing of homeless individuals staying at the shelter.
The city has estimated the East Anchorage shelter’s construction will cost $9 million, though other costs could arise. The Assembly is set to vote on a request for $6.2 million in funding at its meeting next week. The Assembly has already directed another $2.8 million toward the project.
Frustrations at the first listening session
Felix Rivera, chair of the Assembly’s committee on housing and homelessness, said at a Monday press conference that he appreciates that the administration rescheduled the second meeting based on frustrations he heard from residents at the first meeting.
Rivera also said he asked the administration to present more information at second listening session in hopes of better informing the public and so Assembly members can hear more constructive feedback before voting next week.
Rivera said he hopes the administration will present “the full package of the work that has gone into the navigation center so that the public is aware.”
“There has been, frankly, a lot of work that’s gone into this,” Rivera said. “And it was, from my perspective, very disappointing to see that none of that work was really showcased at the first listening session.”
The city plans to build the facility near the intersection of Tudor and Elmore roads. It’s aimed at serving as a temporary living facility where case managers connect clients to jobs, housing, health services and public benefits. It would have an additional surge capacity of 130 more beds, for a total of 330. It would serve people over 25 who are experiencing homelessness, largely single men.
Local company Roger Hickel Contracting is overseeing its construction. It will be a 29,000-square-foot tensioned-fabric facility, manufactured by Sprung Structures, according to the most recent update on the mass care exit plan.
“The manufacture of the structure will occur on a parallel path with final design in order to fast track the project for startup prior to June 30 mass care closure,” the update says.
The Tudor-Elmore project evolved from a previous proposal from Bronson last summer to construct a much larger, 450-person temporary shelter, with a surge capacity of up to 1,000 people, at a slightly different location in the Tudor and Elmore area. The mayor’s original proposal sparked a series of clashes between the administration and the Assembly over the plan, leading to the continuing monthslong negotiation process.
During last week’s listening session, many people expressed frustration that few specific details were revealed and that key members of the Bronson administration, including the mayor, did not attend.
A representative from DOWL Engineering, a local firm helping the city with its plans, and Saxton Shearer, the city’s director of maintenance and operations and the project manager, conducted the meeting.
Andrew Gray, secretary of the Campbell Park Community Council and a leader of Anchorage Action, a political group often critical of the Bronson administration, called on the mayor to attend the next session.
“Since last June, we’ve been told that this is going to happen to us. And we’ve never been asked for our voice. And so we’ve demanded a listening session with a man named Dave Bronson. That’s who I want to talk to,” Gray said.
Whether the mayor or other members of the administration attend the next listening session on the project or provide further information as requested is up to them, Rivera said.
A spokesman for the mayor did not immediately answer an email asking if the mayor would be present at the next meeting.
“Headed in the right direction”
Meg Zaletel, interim executive director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness and a Midtown Assembly member, said during Monday’s press conference that the city has now closed all non-congregate shelters except for one. The coalition is helping the city with its homelessness efforts.
All people who had been staying at the Sockeye Inn have been moved into other housing situations, through a collaborative effort between the coalition, Catholic Social Services and the Anchorage Health Department, Zaletel said.
“We worked intensively with them, and individuals all moved on to other situations, none of which included shelter. So that was a successful unwinding of that facility,” she said.
The Sockeye is slated to reopen in June as a complex care facility for medically fragile people and individuals with other specific needs and will be run by Catholic Social Services.
The mass care site at the Alex Hotel has also been shut down and has become a housing stability program with 67 rooms using funds through the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, Zaletel said. Multiple organizations are involved, including Catholic Social Services, 99 Plus One (which currently operates the Sullivan Arena), the health department and the coalition, she said.
“We’re happy to report that a majority of the individuals there are on a path toward housing and successful housing placements are happening,” she said.
Now, the coalition and the city are turning their attention to the Aviator Hotel, where about 240 people are staying, and to the Sullivan Arena congregate shelter, where about 300 are staying, although exact data was not available on the city’s online dashboard on Monday.
“We’re just a little over 10 weeks remaining until the closure of mass care, so it is still a very intensive period. But looks like we’re headed in the right direction to actively house as many individuals as possible,” Zaletel said.
The next listening session on the proposed East Anchorage shelter will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Monday, April 25 at the Loussac Library.