A battle is heating up in Fairview over a plan by a private social agency to turn the Red Roof Inn into a permanent home for street alcoholics who can't stop drinking.
RuralCAP, which already runs Homeward Bound, a residential program for chronic homeless alcoholics, has dubbed its new project Karluk Manor. The motel sits between Fifth and Sixth avenues along Karluk Street.
One opponent, Ron Alleva, has put up big signs against what he calls the Red Nose Inn.
Thursday night, leaders of the Fairview Community Council hosted a civic forum on the project. More than 50 people showed up at Fairview Recreation Center. Many had strong opinions already. Some thought the program was innovative and overdue. Others thought it would be a disaster. One man handed out cards showing a mock "inebriate crossing" and designated panhandling lanes along Sixth Avenue.
Each side got 10 minutes to make its case.
"We have found throughout our country that if you provide safe and stable housing for people, their alcohol consumption goes down about 30 percent so they are able to make better decisions about how they spend their time," said Melinda Freemon, director of RuralCAP's Anchorage division.
Karluk Manor would be the first official "wet housing" in Anchorage. It wouldn't be a shelter, but rather a group of 48 apartments with round-the-clock staffing.
If the project comes together, residents would contribute toward rent, Freemon said. No overnight visitors would be allowed. Residents couldn't drink in the hallways, common areas or on nearby streets. They couldn't panhandle or loiter in the area.
The project isn't a done deal. The agency is waiting to hear whether it will receive state grant funding to buy the motel and pay for support staff. The motel itself must pass inspections, and the project will need a city conditional use permit, which RuralCap didn't originally think was needed.
MOUNTAIN VIEW PROGRAM WORKS
Backers two weeks ago made their pitch to the community council, where there was strong sentiment against the project.
Freemon told Thursday's crowd that staff and residents work hard to be good neighbors wherever they are.
"When we opened Homeward Bound in 1997 (in Mountain View), we didn't have quite the same response as Fairview has given us, but we weren't exactly welcomed there either."
Now Mountain View supports the program, she said.
Representing the opponents was S.J. Klein, a Fairview resident who owns a business called Alaska Sprouts, which grows and supplies sprouts to restaurants and grocers.
Klein said the community cares about the homeless and wants to help, but what RuralCAP is proposing is flawed. The Red Roof Inn is in the heart of where homeless alcoholics already congregate so it won't remove residents from the problem, said Klein, who illustrated his talk with a PowerPoint and urged people to visit his Web site StopKarlukManor.com. In fact, turning the inn into wet housing will just make Fairview an even bigger draw for inebriates, he said.
"We have the city jail, the sleep-off center. When people sober up from the sleep-off center, they can get a meal at Bean's Cafe, spend the night at Brother Francis," Klein said. Fairview has homeless camps, places to hide and sleep, drug havens, he said.
"As the neighborhood, we really, really feel the brunt of that," Klein said. People should be helped into recovery, he said, but this "places them in the middle of the whole hornet's nest, where temptations are everywhere."
He said it would work better in a more affluent part of town, where the residents could really make a fresh start.
BUSINESS OWNERS WORRIED
People in the crowd also lined up to speak. This time, as many spoke for the project as against it.
Kenny Petersen, who described himself as a second generation owner of Midtown's Allen & Petersen Cooking & Appliance Center, said the approach is sorely needed.
"I'd like one of these in my own neighborhood," Petersen said. "I'd like one of these in each neighborhood in town." He said he sees chronic inebriates on the corner in front of his store and his heart goes out to them.
He has a friend who has been on the streets for 15-20 years, drunk most of that time. He said he just bought a mobile home for his friend, who will pay him back over time. Now RuralCAP is trying to do the same thing, on a bigger scale.
"Folks, we can't be so narrow. We have to say how can we help keep people from dying," said Dahna Graham, a member of Central Lutheran Church at 15th and Cordova. "I don't think it's the bureaucrats against the neighborhood. It's all us, folks. It isn't any them and us."
But others are worried about how Karluk Manor would affect lives and the neighborhood.
Carolina Stacey, a general manager at Lucky Wishbone, which is kitty-corner to the Red Roof Inn, questioned what she called a rosy picture being painted by RuralCAP. Supporters should be thinking beyond the 48 people who would benefit from the special housing, she said.
"How did they become more important than the many of us that have already been here in this community, people like me that go to work on a daily basis? We are paying taxes. We are raising families within the community."
Lucky Wishbone, where she's worked 15 years, already has trouble enough from drunk people, and it only would get worse under what's being proposed, she said.
"Constantly at the restaurant, I am having to call for help, even from the police department or for the drunk tank to come pick them up because there's three or four of them, causing a scene," Stacey said.
Alleva, who owns Grubstake Auction Co., said social programs intended to help the homeless usually fail dismally because they enable dysfunctional lives.
Not so, the backers say. They maintain this kind of housing improves the lot of people who have repeatedly tried and failed to get sober. Similar programs in Seattle, Denver and Minneapolis are working, they say.
RuralCAP plans to soon host its own community forum so it can provide more detailed information to the concerned public. It also wants to meet with business owners.
The Fairview Community Council is taking up the issue again at its Feb. 11 meeting.
Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER
Alaska Dispatch Publishing