The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday redirected millions of dollars toward sheltering homeless residents during the upcoming winter and to local housing efforts.
Members also unanimously approved a resolution laying initial groundwork for the possible use of a recently vacated city office building. The resolution asks that Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration present details to the Housing and Homelessness Committee on Sept. 20 regarding possible use of the former Solid Waste Services administrative building at its old Central Transfer Station site in Midtown as a congregate shelter, warming area or navigation center.
The funding measure, passed in a 9-2 vote, directed about $4.1 million to the Anchorage Health Department to cover shelter beginning in mid-October. Assembly members Kevin Cross and Scott Myers voted against it. Member Meg Zaletel did not participate in the vote.
The measure comes as the city hurries to prepare for sheltering at least 400 to 450 people who are living outside this summer. Private shelters in the city are largely full. Hundreds of people are living in large encampments and in dozens of smaller camps dotting the city’s green spaces and public lands. City plans so far have focused largely on sheltering people in hotel rooms, though officials have said the city needs at least one congregate shelter.
In a last-minute change Tuesday night, members also directed $1.3 million to the nonprofit Anchorage Housing and Affordable Land Trust to purchase vacant and abandoned properties to renovate and turn into housing for people who have been experiencing homelessness.
Jason Bockenstedt, executive director of the trust, said the housing project is contingent on dollar-for-dollar matching funds. The full $2.6 million would allow the trust to open 30 to 40 units of housing. Those include duplexes and two- and three-bedroom units.
Changes to Tuesday’s funding measure also included postponing the transfer of about $300,000 in unspent funds to the Health Department until the next regular Assembly meeting, when members plan to vote on another resolution to allocate $957,000 in alcohol tax revenue left over from last winter to this year’s sheltering needs.
The funding legislation for emergency shelter laid out a few policy requirements for the operation of noncongregate shelters in hotels, warming areas and any congregate shelter.
“Any stays and emergency winter shelter should be a maximum of 90 days, with a heavy focus on successfully transitioning folks into housing. That’s a very different frame of mind from how we’ve really ever done emergency (winter) shelter,” Assembly member Felix Rivera said. “... It’s frankly been a warehouse situation in the past with a focus on housing at the tail end.”
The resolution also stipulates that any congregate emergency shelter will be for 150 people maximum, and any warming centers funded by the resolution can’t be at the same location as an emergency shelter. Food services will be required at any shelter, according to the measure.
On Tuesday night, several Assembly members expressed interest in using the Solid Waste Services administrative building this winter as a shelter. Others offered caution but called for the administration to explore the option, along with other viable ideas for shelter and homeless services.
“Part of the reason why we have so many unsheltered, especially adults, is because we haven’t had a low-barrier shelter in this community for a long time,” Assembly member Anna Brawley said. “And so we have a pent-up need for that type of facility. That said, we still need to evaluate whether this particular facility is feasible.”
Assembly member Randy Sulte said he initially proposed a resolution calling for the administration to examine the site for a possible navigation center connecting homeless residents to social services and housing resources.
“However, due to some interest, we’re moving it forward as possibility for shelter, warming as well, and asking the administration to evaluate the site. We’re not saying do it — we’re saying evaluate it. It could be all, some or none of the proposed uses,” Sulte said.
The building includes some basic requirements for homeless services like showers, water, heat and fencing, he said.