Assembly rejects Mayor Bronson’s push to finish construction of East Anchorage homeless shelter

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday rejected an $11 million proposal from Mayor Dave Bronson to restart construction of a homeless shelter and navigation center in East Anchorage.

Immediately after voting it down, Assembly members put forward a separate proposal that would direct $5.9 million of that money to the city’s housing efforts and emergency winter homeless sheltering. That resolution is now scheduled for a hearing and vote at the next meeting in September.

The administration’s push to revive the 150- to 200-bed homeless shelter failed in a 9-3 vote. Members Randy Sulte, Kevin Cross and Scott Myers voted in favor of the project.

Assembly members who voted against it cited numerous concerns, balking at its estimated $16 million to $17 million total price with no long-term funding source yet identified and the $6 million to $8 million in annual operations costs, along with concerns about the safety and temporary nature of the tensioned-fabric structure.

Construction of the facility was stopped in October after the Assembly learned that Bronson officials pushed ahead with millions in work without first getting the required Assembly approval. The Assembly in a series of votes over the last two years had set aside $9 million for the shelter.

The city has already sunk at least $4.5 million into it, including purchasing the framed tent building from Sprung Structures and paying a $2.5 million legal settlement to the construction management firm for work already done.

The decision comes as private shelters in Anchorage are regularly full and as an estimated 750 people are living unsheltered, sleeping on the street or in vehicles, camping in the city’s green spaces or in one of a few large encampments.


Many residents in recent public testimony and community councils in resolutions have called for the city to take substantive action to help the city’s homeless residents and to alleviate public safety problems like crime, drug use and predatory behavior in areas near large encampments.

The proposal to construct a large shelter near the intersections of Tudor and Elmore roads would be one of the most expensive approaches, would only partially address the issues, and would be less effective than other alternatives, many Assembly members said.

“Let’s be real for a second. Setting up a 150-person shelter is not going to solve the issues people email us about and are urging us to do something about. It is a piece of the puzzle. But it is not the panacea that some keep saying it is. This shelter is not a plan to address homelessness,” said Assembly member Felix Rivera, who chairs the Housing and Homelessness Committee.

While officials broadly agree the city needs more low-barrier shelter beds, there is disagreement over how best to bolster the homelessness response system, especially in the face of limited city funds.

Many members have long said the city should prioritize housing efforts, and a scattered-site homelessness response of smaller, targeted shelters and services located throughout the city, rather than building a large shelter in one location.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Bronson called the Assembly’s decision “disappointing.”

“We now have and we will have no shelter for far too many people this winter. That was the last opportunity,” Bronson said.

That’s not necessarily true. Construction of the shelter would have taken at least several months to fully complete. It likely wouldn’t be ready for occupancy until well after winter, Assembly members have said.The city would also need time to find an organization to run the shelter, adequate staff, resources and interior furnishings, and millions in funding for operations.

A plan put forth by the Anchorage Health Department last week for emergency winter shelter would largely rely on using hotel rooms and possibly small warming areas this winter. It’s a plan several Assembly members have expressed support for. The funding resolution members laid on the table Tuesday night would pay for its costs, if approved next month.

“We can fund every bed we need this winter and soon,” Assembly Chair Christopher Constant said during Tuesday’s meeting.

On Wednesday, Bronson said he supports the city’s recent conversions of hotels into long-term low-income housing. But the city still needs a shelter, because hotel rooms don’t work for everyone, and in the past, damage to rooms resulted in the city paying for costly repairs, he said.

“Some people are incapable of just being in a hotel room, unsupervised. They need a different kind of place. That’s precisely what a shelter does for some people, is it gives them an a more open area where they can be supervised where their behavior can be monitored, and we can get them the help that they need,” he said.

Bronson put the onus on the Assembly and the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness:

“We’re waiting on the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness and the Assembly to come up with their solutions,” he said.

The Assembly controls the city’s purse strings “and they’ve made their decision,” Bronson said. “We can’t do anything without money. So sheltering is in their hands,” Bronson said.

(The coalition, a nonprofit, serves as an advisor and coordinator of the homelessness response system in Anchorage. It does not make policy decisions for the municipality.)

Bronson has opposed previous ideas from Assembly members for shelter, including nixing a deal to purchase a former Alaska Club building in Midtown and a more recent suggestion to buy the Arctic Recreation Center.


Questions over funding sources

Assembly members Randy Sulte and Kevin Cross in statements before the vote vehemently argued that the shelter, while not a perfect solution, would be a step in the right direction for the city.

The encampments “are there because we do not have shelter capacity today,” Sulte said. “We have no better way today to help these people. We cannot offer our citizens in need anything better than camping.”

With no shelter available, many homeless residents are vulnerable to crime and predatory behavior, they said.

“Yes, it might be financially painful. And it might be a struggle for us to try to do this. But it’s what is right. Because if you go down there and see the people being victimized by criminals, that is inadequate,” Cross said, referring to a large camp at Third Avenue and Ingra Street.

Those opposed to the project said funding it as Bronson officials proposed last week would pull resources away from city priorities like wildfire mitigation.

“It came as quite a shock last week when we learned that the proposal requires taking funding from critical services,” Constant said during his opening comments Tuesday night.

And some of that money appears to have already been spent by the city, he said.

One such source raised questions on Tuesday night: Bronson’s funding document included $302,000 left over from the $400,000 that the Assembly, late last year, directed to help mitigate serious public safety issues in the Fairview neighborhood around the former mass shelter in Sullivan Arena and in the nearby Chester Creek area.


But during a discussion on a different item Tuesday night, Municipal Manager Kent Kohlhase told members that money has actually been spent by the police department on the security effort.

“I’ve seen the document that says it wasn’t spent. My understanding, from talking with Chief Kerle and Deputy Chief Case over the past couple of days, is that it was, in fact, spent. They believe they’ve expended all of it,” Kohlhase said.

Assembly member Daniel Volland, who represents North Anchorage, which includes Fairview, said he was “livid” when he saw the money in the proposed funding document, apparently unspent on its intended purpose to help relieve negative impacts of the former shelter.

“Now I’m hearing, ‘No, potentially APD has spent their full amount,’ which I believe was $250,000 of the $400,000,” Volland said. “And so, I’m at a point now where I can’t even trust any of these numbers. I don’t know what has been spent and what hasn’t been spent.”

The proposed Sprung Structures shelter also has not yet passed review of the city’s building official, with questions unanswered about its seismic design and ability to withstand winds and heavy snow, Volland pointed out.

“And beyond that, no funds have been identified for operating costs, which we know are somewhere in the tune of $8 million annually. And then beyond the funding, there is a huge unknown around staffing. How are we realistically going to staff a shelter like this?” Rivera said.

At one point in the discussion, Assembly member Anna Brawley read aloud several comments made by Bronson over the last few months suggesting the administration would use the shelter for far more than 200 people. Brawley read statements from the mayor saying that he needs 776 shelter beds in order to pass legal muster to clear the encampments, and that the 29,000-square-foot facility, if built, could handle that many. She read another comment in which he also referenced Lower 48 shelters with upward of 950 beds as examples.

“Those things more than anything else that we’ve heard all summer made me extremely skeptical that this will be used for anything other than a warehouse,” Brawley said.

The Anchorage community has learned firsthand the negative impacts to neighborhoods that can result from large congregate shelters like the former mass emergency shelter in Sullivan Arena, she said.

“This community knows that, even if it works in other communities, we need to keep it smaller. We need to disperse our shelters and we do not need to warehouse people, particularly if it is a pretext for abating people based on a legal decision,” Brawley said.

The Anchorage Health Department’s emergency winter shelter plan to use hotel rooms and small warming areas takes that type of scattered-site approach Constant said.

Even though there is confusion over whether some of the funding is really available, it’s clear that much of it is, Constant said. Details of that will be sorted as the Assembly moves forward with the funding plan introduced Tuesday night, he said.

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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