Anchorage

Mayor Bronson vetoes Anchorage Assembly’s task force on emergency cold weather shelter for homeless

Homeless camp

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson has vetoed an Assembly resolution that called for a task force to come up with a plan to shelter hundreds of people experiencing homelessness this winter.

Assembly members passed the resolution at a special meeting last week, starting a process to develop emergency winter shelter plans.

Bronson, in his veto of that task force, argued that the Assembly had essentially created an official city advisory body while bypassing legally necessary procedures, and said that members of an advisory body must be appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Assembly, per city charter.

“Anytime the Assembly creates a public advisory body to ‘make recommendations to the Assembly’ on matters specified in the ordinance that creates the advisory body, it is creating a board or a commission under the plain meaning” of the city’s charter, Bronson said in the veto. “It does not matter that the Assembly chooses to call the board a ‘task force’ or any other name it may adopt.”

Assembly Vice Chair Christopher Constant said he believes the mayor’s legal arguments are “absurd” and that the Assembly will issue its own legal opinion. Requesting help and expertise on a complex community issue is not the same as creating an official advisory board, he said.

The Assembly is slated to vote on whether to override the mayor’s veto at a special Assembly meeting already scheduled for Thursday, along with a veto override vote on a separate issue. Because the resolution passed with a supermajority vote of eight, it is likely that members will overturn Bronson’s veto.

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Members passed the resolution after Bronson officials did not show up to a committee meeting on homelessness, during which Assembly members had expected the administration to present its own plans for emergency shelter. The city manager instead emailed the committee written answers to some of their questions, but did not include details about a winter shelter plan.

When the Assembly passed the resolution, several members said the issue was too critical to take no action and that they could not rely on the Bronson administration to deliver a timely or effective plan. The Assembly directed the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness to convene a task force of service providers, city agencies and other organizations affected by or working in the area of homeless services.

The coalition is a nonprofit that coordinates Anchorage’s homelessness prevention and response system and leads the implementation of the community’s homelessness plan. It is currently led by Meg Zaletel, who is also an Assembly member and largely recuses herself from votes on issues touching homelessness.

The Assembly’s resolution recognizes the coalition’s work and publicly states that the Assembly values and is requesting its input, Constant said.

“We certainly don’t need the mayor’s permission. He’s effectively arguing that we need his permission — a blessing to have conversations — in the community, ” Constant said.

The group would work to develop a plan for winter shelter and submit it to the Assembly by Sept. 22, along with any funding requests. The Assembly said it would vote on the plan at the Sept. 27 meeting.

But at Tuesday night’s meeting, Bronson told members that he does, in fact, have a plan for emergency winter shelter. It includes the possible use of municipal facilities, he said, though he did not identify which buildings. When member Forrest Dunbar asked for more details, Alexis Johnson, Bronson’s chief of staff, said that officials are reviewing four different buildings and declined to say which ones. The city will provide more information at the end of the month, she said.

The administration plans to rely on a partnership with private groups, including churches and traditional service providers, to stand up emergency shelters, Bronson said. The Anchorage Health Department will oversee the licensing of those, he said.

Applications for organizations and churches to become emergency cold weather shelter providers are now online on the city website, along with other documents relating to the city’s laws and department policies on emergency shelter.

“We expect to provide enough space for hundreds of individuals. A formal bid process will take place and interested operators will submit plans to the muni to run these emergency shelters through the winter. Additionally, we intend to activate the faith community throughout Anchorage by offering micro grants to organizations who open their doors to our friends and neighbors on the street this winter,” Bronson said.

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The city will “fill in the gaps as needed,” he said.

“We recognize that no plan is perfect but having no plan is simply not an option. We are very open to working with the Assembly to fine tune or tweak this plan is necessary,” Bronson said.

But Assembly leaders and other members said the administration’s Tuesday night reveal of its work on emergency shelter options doesn’t amount to an actual plan because it had no specifics on key details such as shelter locations, sizes, costs and services.

“There’s no plan there. Show me the plan. It’s asking for help developing a plan, which is a step. It’s, ‘Churches, tell me what you would do,’” Constant said.

The city’s webpage on emergency shelter plan contains applications “to participate within a system, but there’s no demonstrated system there,” Constant said.

The Assembly’s resolution and Bronson’s veto represent another iteration in an often acrimonious tug-of-war between the administration and the Assembly’s majority on city homelessness plans.

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Meanwhile, the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness convened its first task force meetings this week. As winter approaches, officials, homeless service providers, advocates and others are pressing ahead to stand up shelter options quickly.

Currently, there are more than 350 people in Anchorage living unsheltered, the coalition estimates. That includes the 250 people, give or take, who are living at Centennial Park Campground in East Anchorage, where Bronson officials directed homeless individuals as they shut down the city’s mass shelter in Sullivan Arena at the end of June. The city has not provided any homeless services at Centennial, and Bronson officials say it is not a part of the city’s homelessness response.

Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. She earned her degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. Contact her at egoodykoontz@adn.com.

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