Sullivan Arena shelter will stay open through May for 90 homeless clients

Anchorage will not fully close its emergency shelter in Sullivan Arena at the end of April and instead will cut its capacity from 360 to 90 people through May.

The city will use Sullivan for a few more weeks to shelter only the most vulnerable homeless residents, closing it fully on May 31, according to a resolution approved Tuesday evening by the Assembly.

Assembly members reversed their unanimous decision earlier this month to close the shelter at the end of April and said it is the final extension of the building’s three-year run as a shelter.

After noon on May 1, Sullivan will be open only to 90 people who “have a condition which substantially impairs their daily activity or mobility,” according to the resolution.

The city first repurposed the arena in early 2020 to shelter homeless residents when the pandemic caused private shelters to drastically cut capacities. It was closed for a period last year while the city directed homeless residents to Centennial Campground in East Anchorage but was reopened as a shelter for winter.

With limited funding and resources to address homelessness, policymakers say it’s time to focus on long-term solutions rather than stopgap measures like the Sullivan.

Members on Tuesday also passed several items to fund those efforts in anticipation of an upswell in unsheltered homelessness as emergency winter shelter operations close in the coming weeks.


This winter, about 600 people have been using emergency shelter provided by the city each night, staying at Sullivan, including using a separate warming area at the arena, or sheltering in rooms at the Alex and Aviator hotels.

Many in Sullivan are some of the city’s sickest and most vulnerable residents, with active severe mental illness, substance use disorders, medical needs and mobility issues, or a combination.

When it closes, about 174 people will be at “significant risk,” according to an assessment sent to Assembly members this week by Restorative Reentry Services, the contractor the Assembly hired to provide third-party oversight of shelters and help in guiding their closure.

Assembly member Felix Rivera, who chairs the committee on housing and homelessness, acknowledged that keeping it open for just 90 people “isn’t a perfect number.” However, some have already opted to leave on their own or have moved into housing.

“So what happens between now and May 1 at 12 noon? Good question. RRS has helped to organize providers into what they are calling a ‘war room’ at the Sullivan, to really go through the list each and every day to see what resources can be brought to bear to help folks transition out of the Sullivan — although this should have been happening for months,” Rivera said. “The decision we are making today is really providing a kick in the ass to get the job done.”

On Tuesday, members approved a contract extension for the nonprofit running the Sullivan shelter, Henning Inc., and directed $326,000 to keep it open.

The Assembly also funded a $1.15 million grant increase to the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness to bolster outreach and navigation services for people living outside.

And the Assembly put about $1 million toward repairs of the city-owned former Golden Lion Hotel, included in revisions to the 2023 city budget that members also approved Tuesday night.

Mayor Dave Bronson and the Assembly on Tuesday morning announced a plan to quickly open the Midtown building as a rooming house before the end of June for people with disabilities and mobility impairments. Officials said they estimate the city will begin moving people staying primarily at the Sullivan Arena shelter into the building as early as the first or second week of May.

“Housing is the solution to homelessness and as much as possible, we should be funding opportunities like this. This investment will help with the transition out of emergency shelter, provide a bump in the number of low-income housing units that are in our community to meet the total 2,400 units that we know we need,” Rivera said.

The city is facing an affordable housing crisis. A recent “gap analysis” by the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness found that the city needs 2,478 permanent housing units, including for supportive housing, rapid rehousing and low-income independent rental units.

Finding ways to create more is a priority for the Assembly and administration, officials said Tuesday.

Anchorage has funded three other conversions of hotels into low-income housing over the last year: the GuestHouse Inn downtown, and the Lakeshore Inn and Barratt Inn in Spenard.

On Tuesday, the Assembly directed $500,000 to newly formed nonprofit Anchorage Affordable Housing and Land Trust, which now owns the converted hotels. The money will go to homelessness prevention for people living in the buildings, as well as staffing and security.

It directed another $1.1 million to three private shelters: Brother Francis Shelter near downtown, the Complex Care Facility in the former Sockeye Inn in Midtown, and Covenant House downtown.

[Related coverage:]

[City to open Golden Lion as housing for homeless residents with disabilities]


[’Who will make it out on the streets? Who would die?’ Uncertainty and fear at what comes after the Sullivan Arena shelter closure]

[New Anchorage task force will assess possibility of sanctioned camps or shelter villages for the homeless]

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