Anchorage’s city-operated Sullivan Arena shelter will close June 30, the municipality said in a statement Wednesday, but a new navigation center for unhoused people in Anchorage isn’t expected to open until “late fall,” according to the city.
The city cited the “significantly diminished impact” of COVID-19, lack of current emergency declarations and a cutoff date for federal funding looming as reasons to close the shelter at the end of the month.
“It is time to close this chapter in our city’s history and move forward with a bold plan that both treats those experiencing homelessness with dignity and restores the Sullivan Arena to its intended purpose as a place for memorable community gatherings and events,” Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson said in the statement.
The municipality has been working with nonprofits and business groups on a comprehensive plan to house homeless Anchorage residents post-Sullivan Arena. The plan calls for construction of a 150-person “low-barrier” shelter near the corner of Tudor and Elmore roads in East Anchorage, as well as smaller housing options throughout the city. In May, the city approved $6.2 million in funding to build the shelter, which will have an annual estimated cost of $5 million per year to operate. Private donors, including Providence Alaska and the Rasmuson Foundation, have pledged a further $7 million toward city’s unified homelessness plan.
The city’s latest published transition plan says the new sprung-structure shelter could be ready for temporary occupancy as soon as Aug. 1.
But the timeline could be much longer: The navigation center at Tudor and Elmore isn’t expected to open until “late fall,” wrote Hans Rodvik, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, in an email Wednesday. Design of the Tudor and Elmore structure is still in the works.
“As the design continues to evolve, I think the timeline will continue to evolve too,” said Anchorage Assembly member Felix Rivera, who chairs the Assembly’s committee on housing and homelessness and was part of the group negotiating the city’s new homelessness plan.
In the months in between, people seeking emergency shelter would rely on “the efforts of traditional providers and the extensive and growing partnerships between AHD, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, Catholic Social Services, Covenant House, United Way of Alaska, and many others who are working overtime to provide case management and place the maximum number of individuals in transitional and permanent supportive housing,” Rodvik wrote.
Shelter guests would also be given a “resource guide” and can get case management while the Sullivan remains open, Rodvik wrote.
It wasn’t immediately clear how much emergency shelter those groups could provide, and over what time period.
“It’s important that we aren’t kicking anyone into the streets, that folks leaving the shelter have somewhere to stay,” Rivera said.
Rivera said he thinks the city has the capacity to house people displaced by the shelter’s closure.
“We just need to be organized and we need to be ready,” he said.
The city’s published transitional plan suggests that people could be sheltered in non-congregate hotel sites such as the Aviator Hotel in the meantime. Shelter guests have been notified that the shelter will close and should be able to get help moving into “viable housing options,” the city’s statement said.
About 300 people are currently staying at Sullivan Arena, according to a city data dashboard.
The city said it was still trying to determine how much it would cost to repair the arena and ready it to host events. Work would begin on repairs as soon as shelter residents move out, Rodvik said.