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Housing First tops panel's homeless plan

The mayor's homeless leadership team on Tuesday approved more than a dozen strategies to address the city's long-vexing problem of street alcoholics, including more housing, more case managers to guide them to a better life, and more opportunity to get sober.

In particular, the team gave unanimous support to a controversial proposal to turn the Red Roof Inn into individual apartments for street alcoholics whether they are ready to stop drinking or not. The inn is on Fifth Avenue and Karluk Street, and the project would be called Karluk Manor. One vocal opponent has put up signs against what he calls the "Red Nose Inn."

A final written report from the team should be ready for Mayor Dan Sullivan by the end of next week, city staff members said. Sullivan will review the recommendations and decide which ones he wants to pursue, Health and Human Services director Diane Ingle told the team.

Many of the recommendations are framed around what's known as Housing First, which provides people from the streets a safe home but makes no demand that they quit drinking.

"All of our issues eventually lead to a need for housing. If we need more treatment, then people still need to go somewhere after treatment," Ingle, a team member, said at the start of Tuesday's meeting.

"And for those people who are not necessarily a candidate for any of those programs, the concept has been around Housing First," Ingle said.

Karluk Manor would be the first big project of that type in Anchorage, modeled after a successful program in Seattle that members of the mayor's team toured. It would be staffed around the clock, a security camera system would help ensure safety, residents would get two meals a day on site, and they would have to abide by strict rules, including limits on visitors and a ban on panhandling in the area, according to a plan presented Tuesday by RuralCAP.

The agency, which already operates Homeward Bound in Mountain View for chronic public inebriates, has secured $1.9 million in state grant funding to buy and renovate the motel as well as about $500,000 a year to operate it, according to the plan. RuralCAP still must secure a conditional use permit from the city Planning and Zoning Commission. The sale is supposed to close by June 30, said Melinda Freemon, RuralCAP's director of Anchorage services.

The Fairview Community Council voted against the project. Freemon said she's still talking to council members and working with nearby businesses to address concerns.

Then-Assembly member Dan Coffey, a member of the team, first alerted her the motel was for sale. Coffey has said the project makes sense financially, by reducing Community Service Patrol pickups, emergency room visits, and police calls involving street alcoholics.

"We did not find Karluk Manor. It found us at RuralCAP," Freemon said. As for those it would serve, "this is the end of the line for people."

Sullivan hasn't yet taken a position on Housing First, or Karluk Manor. He has questioned its location, between busy Fifth and Sixth avenues. He'll want to examine the team's proposal and Karluk Manor plans in detail, his spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Sullivan created the team after a string of high profile deaths of homeless alcoholics last spring and summer. He directed it to find ways to reduce deaths, violence and impact on public places by street alcoholics.

The team includes nearly 40 community members, including health and social service leaders, Anchorage Assembly members, shelter operators, and prison officials. They have been meeting since October.

After they hear back from Sullivan, members will work further on the plan, including how to pay for it, Ingle said.

They call their recommended approach "Off the Streets."

Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.

Top recommendations from Mayor Dan Sullivan's homeless leadership team:

•Develop more of what's called Housing First, which includes on-site services and makes no demand that they quit drinking.

•Support RuralCAP's efforts to turn the Red Roof Inn into Housing First apartments, with 24-7 staffing, for homeless people who have been unable to get sober.

•Create a team to provide immediate help to homeless people when police shut down their camps. Oppose the closure of camps unless housing can be offered.

•Increase the number of beds available for alcohol detoxification in Anchorage.

•Boost the number of case managers so that each one works with 10 homeless clients. Currently, they juggle a load of up to 50.