Anchorage tears down homeless camps as 150-bed winter shelter opens

The city on Tuesday opened its 150-bed emergency winter homeless shelter in Midtown and proceeded with its plans to clear three homeless camps, beginning with two in Northeast Anchorage.

Inside a large bay area of Solid Waste Services’ former administrative building, social service staff unfolded green cots, setting them out in rows across the cement floor. Stacks of large, yellow-lidded totes sat near the entrance, ready for the shelter’s homeless clients to store their belongings.

Just two people had arrived by mid-Tuesday afternoon, but five more were on their way, said Shawn Hays, CEO of Henning Inc., the group contracted to run city shelters.

Justin Neeley sat on his cot, unpacking a few things and warming up after a night of sleeping outside. Neeley had been camping at various places since the city closed its Sullivan Area shelter in spring — he’s stayed at encampments near Cuddy Park and Third and Ingra, and slept on downtown streets, he said.

Neeley said he was happy to be out of the cold, and in a shelter. Unlike at the encampments, his belongings hopefully won’t be stolen regularly, and he’ll be safer from robbery and other violence at the facility, he said.

“It was scary out there,” he said.

“This is way better than anything.”


Lately, one of the most difficult parts of experiencing homelessness in Anchorage has been finding a shelter bed, said Neeley, who has been homeless for about two years.

“They go so quickly. Beds go so quickly,” he said.

His sister made a call, helping him get onto the city’s about 990-person waitlist for a winter shelter bed.

[As Anchorage officials grapple with a winter shelter bed gap, Bronson resurrects dispute over mass shelter proposal]

Neeley looked around at the bay area, slowly filling with more cots, and added, “This is a lot. This is good. There’s been nights that like, I couldn’t sleep anywhere, and I slept underneath, you know, a street lamp. In front of a store, you know, just a blanket. I’ve done that multiple times, because I can’t get into anywhere.”

But not everyone who is homeless wants a bed in the city’s emergency mass shelter.

“We’re not willing to get COVID-19. We don’t like being around drunks, we hate drugs, we hate people that love to do violence. We’re not going to the shelter,” Brian Luther said as he dismantled his campsite Tuesday at Valley Street Park in Northeast Anchorage.

The city posted notices of abatement at the camp on Oct. 20, giving campers 10 days to clear out. On Tuesday afternoon, Parks and Recreation workers tore down the remaining tents and hauled off debris. Anchorage police stood by.

Luther and his partner, Alicia Lockwood, were being forced to leave. They put their names on the city’s registration list two weeks ago, hoping to get a room at one of the two hotel shelter sites, Luther said, but they never heard back. The couple do not have a phone.

City homeless coordinator Alexis Johnson said the city offered a ride to shelter to all 24 people between the three camps being cleared on Tuesday. No one accepted shelter at the first camp cleared, Chanshtnu Muldoon Park, she said.

[Outdoor homeless deaths in Anchorage continue to mount]

Hays said that despite the slow start at the Solid Waste Services shelter site on Tuesday, she expects the beds to be filled by the end of the week.

At Henning’s office, staff have been making their way down the shelter waitlist, trying to reach homeless residents by phone.

By midafternoon, they’d reached about 22 people who said they would take a shelter bed, Hays said.

The city’s other two emergency winter shelters are largely full — 374 people are doubled up in hotel rooms at the Alex Hotel in Spenard and the Aviator Hotel downtown, Hays said.

Privately run shelters in Anchorage are also largely full.

The city’s winter shelter plan has 524 beds. Once the congregate shelter is filled to 150 people, at least 350 people on the list will still be waiting for a bed.


Johnson said the city will likely ask the Assembly at its next meeting to approve adding 50 beds to the shelter at the Solid Waste Services site, bringing it up to 200.

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