Anchorage Assembly outlines plan for April 30 closure of winter homeless shelters

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday unanimously approved a measure setting April 30 as the date for closure of the city’s emergency winter homeless shelters and outlining a “demobilization plan.”

City funding for the congregate homeless shelter at the Sullivan Arena and for rooms sheltering homeless at the Alex and Aviator hotels had been slated to end April 30. Still, the Assembly’s action Tuesday night solidified the rapidly approaching closure date even as some service providers called for an extension.

More than 600 people were staying in the city’s three shelters or using a warming area at Sullivan Arena as of April 6, according to the Health Department’s shelter dashboard. Once the shelters close, several hundred will likely have nowhere to go.

Assembly member Felix Rivera, who chairs the Committee on Housing and Homelessness and who drafted the measure, acknowledged that the city will see a swell of unsheltered homelessness come May 1.

“This demobilization resolution today really is all about mitigating those impacts as much as possible. But I just want to be super clear — I don’t think we will be able to mitigate 100% of those impacts. We just don’t have the resources to do that,” Rivera said.

The resolution outlines a list of options for the city to swiftly consider, among them purchasing modular structures such as prefabricated tiny homes from Washington-based company Pallet, contracting with other hotels to shelter people in rooms, and creating a temporary low-barrier shelter at the former Alaska Native Charter School.

The measure prioritizes some issues, like the expected influx of individuals with mental illnesses and/or substance misuse disorders on the streets.


“Based on all of the conversations that I have had, on May 1, we really could be seeing a behavioral health emergency playing out on our streets — even more than we see right now,” Rivera said.

In discussion of the resolution, Assembly members on Tuesday broadly expressed frustration with the city’s continued reliance on Sullivan Arena. It’s a stopgap measure that is far from ideal for homeless clients, and it has had significant harmful impacts on the surrounding neighborhood. Meanwhile, the city has made little progress toward effective and long-term solutions, they said.

“For so long, we’ve been fixated on the Sullivan. One more month. Just one more month. Just three more months. Just six more months. Just another year. How long is this going to draw out?” said Daniel Volland, who represents the North Anchorage Assembly district, which includes Sullivan Arena. “So now’s the time. Now’s the time for a reset. And it’s going to be hard.”

Tuesday’s resolution outlined several possibilities the city will pursue:

• It calls for the administration to solicit information for possible non-congregate shelter locations, such as hotel rooms.

• It asks the administration to look into changes to city code that would be needed to allow alternative types of shelter such as Pallet shelters and other modular structures.

• The Assembly’s committee on homelessness will work with the Bronson administration to explore, on an expedited basis, using the former Alaska Native Charter School building. Bronson officials earlier this year said a private donor, who they would not name, offered to buy the building and lease it to the city on a short-term basis as a 150-person shelter.

• The resolution prioritizes working with the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness and funding housing-driven outreach and mobile navigation services for people living unsheltered.

• It calls for the creation of a task force to look into the possibility of setting up sanctioned homeless camps.

• It also calls for a task force to look into immediate solutions for people with behavioral health issues and/or substance misuse disorders who are also experiencing homelessness.

Guidelines for the task forces will be set by further Assembly resolutions, expected at the special meeting on April 18, Rivera said.

Some ideas in the resolution may be more viable than others, Rivera said, noting he is skeptical of the former school building as a realistic option. The Aviator Hotel, which is undergoing renovation, has offered to keep 25 rooms open, he said.

‘We need action’

The Sullivan has been used as a homeless shelter since early in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced private shelters to drastically drop their capacities.

Mayor Dave Bronson closed the shelter for a few months over the summer of 2022, transporting many homeless residents to live outside in Northeast Anchorage’s Centennial Campground. The city is required by law to open emergency winter shelter when temperatures drop to 45 degrees, but Bronson’s administration did not produce viable plans before winter, so the city reopened Sullivan.

The Assembly last month contracted Restorative Reentry Services’ Cathleen McLaughlin to provide third-party oversight of the city’s shelters and help in guiding their closure.

McLaughlin sent a recommendation to members on Monday, and speaking on Tuesday urged Assembly members to keep the Sullivan open for one more month, through the end of May.

“Come and walk with me. See what it is. Count the wheelchairs and the walkers that are actively in the Sullivan right now, and then tell me it’s OK to close the doors without giving them an option,” McLaughlin told Assembly members ahead of their vote.


The extra month would give time for snow to melt and the weather to warm, more time for community service providers to spring into action and more time to get their clients engaged in plans, she said.

But Assembly members were set.

Clients and service providers also need a date certain for closure in order to prepare, Rivera said. Funding is limited and should be directed toward long-term solutions, he said.

If the Assembly doesn’t “turn off the faucet at some point,” it may never take action on those, Volland said.

“Whether it is on May 1 or on June 1, at some point we will have to face the fact that there will be an increase in the number of unsheltered individuals in our community. And I will do everything I can to work with my colleagues in the administration to prepare for that,” Rivera said.

On Wednesday morning, Assembly members began work on the plan laid out in Tuesday’s resolution.

Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness Executive Director Meg Zaletel, who is also a Midtown Assembly member, told members at a committee meeting that likely 700 to 800 people will be unsheltered at the end of April.

About 150 are highly vulnerable due to medical needs and chronic health conditions, and 40 to 50 more people at Sullivan will be highly vulnerable due to behavioral health issues.


Members said those who will be most at risk on the streets should be the city’s top priority.

“If a proposal came forward that said, ‘We have 100 people and we need to find a place for them because they’re in wheelchairs and with walkers and they can’t survive in the woods’ — I think that would be a priority we should focus on first,” Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said.

Volland and Assembly member Randy Sulte said they want to pursue using modular structures as an option, an idea McLaughlin said she had long been advocating for.

Sulte at one point on Tuesday suggested adding to the resolution a statement the city would use $300,000 to purchase 30 Pallet shelters, but other members said that would be premature, though they largely supported pursuing the idea.

“We had the option to build a navigation center — we didn’t build it. We have an option to open the Golden Lion. We’re not opening it. We need action,” Sulte said, expressing frustration over previously proposed projects that have so far been thwarted and become flashpoints in city politics.

Mayor Bronson had long opposed turning the city-owned former Golden Lion Hotel in Midtown into a substance abuse treatment center. He reversed course on using the building earlier this year, and agreed to convert it into low-income housing, but little progress has been made.

Assembly members last fall voted down Bronson’s project to construct a navigation center and shelter in East Anchorage, after the revelation that the administration had quietly authorized millions of dollars in construction work before getting approval from the Assembly, violating city contracting law.

Last month, Rivera and other Assembly members floated a concept for a shelter in Midtown’s Arctic Recreation Center. That quickly became a political flashpoint as Bronson and conservative allies stirred community opposition ahead of the April 4 election and Rivera’s run for reelection in Midtown. Discussions on that have since stalled.

Several Assembly members support revisiting one or more of those proposals.

“How about we just finish what we started?” member Kevin Cross said of the East Anchorage shelter project.

Those projects are long term and would fill a need for permanent, year-round emergency shelter or housing. Tuesday’s resolution focuses instead on more immediate possibilities or temporary alternatives, aiming to support neighborhoods and homeless residents as emergency shelters close, Rivera said in an interview.

The plan includes ideas from the administration, Assembly members, homeless service providers and community members, he said.

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. Contact her at