My family has owned property at the corner of Third Avenue and Hyder Street directly across from the former Native hospital site since 1950. The boarded-up house on the corner was built by my grandfather in 1951. We are a family of longtime Alaskans who have been directly, and most severely, affected by the consolidation of social services in our once-thriving neighborhood.
All of the recent talk about the housing shortage and the lack of bed space inspired me to take a hard look at the issue, and ask the following question: "The long-term solution is for this city to add an additional shelter to increase bed capacity, but where could it go that makes sense?"
Before I launch into that, I would like to make a statement regarding Bean's Café being requested to operate as a shelter. Bean's Café was designed and built specifically to produce meals and feed people in need — not house them. They are essentially a "restaurant." It is unfair for the city to place this burden on Bean's Café, which has inadequate facilities. Now, on to answering the question at hand.
I first turned to the People Mover website to research the new route map. As many already know, the new Route 20 now runs from the Downtown Transit Center past Brother Francis Shelter & Bean's Cafe, ending at the Alaska Native Medical Center on Tudor (by design). I then went to Google Earth to see what land is available along Route 20. The answer became immediately apparent to me: this city needs a shelter on Tudor, between the Anchorage Police Department headquarters and the crime lab directly across the street from ANMC. There is plenty of real estate on the east half of the city-owned parcel that the police station sits on.
This is the perfect site for additional capacity and a "fresh start." It is directly next door to the police station (no excuses), directly across from the Native hospital (as originally intended), 90 seconds from Providence hospital, a straight shot from Fire Station 14, and the city already owns the land.
Those of us closest to and most affected by the homeless know there are many different demographics that make up our homeless population. Elderly, physically handicapped, mentally handicapped, substance abusers, chronic inebriates, criminals, etc. Those who choose to be homeless, and those who have fallen on hard times. We have all seen the interviews of homeless people who are scared to be among the individuals lingering outside Brother Francis and Bean's, but desperately require their services.
I believe the first step to cleaning up the disaster that is the 1100 block of East Third Avenue is to separate the elderly, handicapped, and those who truly want to improve themselves from the drunks, druggies and criminals who often prey upon these people. We must remove those people not posing a severe threat to society from the equation. How do you do that? You give them another option.
The city needs a facility at my proposed location that requires every person to be clean and sober to even step foot on the property. An absolute zero-tolerance policy, unlike the failed policies and practices taking place outside the Brother Francis Shelter. If someone shows up having been drinking or appears to be on an illegal substance, you send them away to Brother Francis via Route 20. Or, if they pose a threat to the safety of our community, you notify the community patrol to have them removed. If a clean, sober person shows up at Brother Francis, hand them a one-way People Mover voucher to take Route 20 to the new clean shelter and get them the heck out of there.
By placing the shelter on the same parcel of land as the police department, I believe you will instantly weed out the criminal element and illegal activity, attracting only those who are in search of shelter and safety. The drunks, druggies, and criminals will stay right where they are on East Third Avenue, in my backyard. And if they don't, and the social problems follow, then pointing the finger directly at APD will then be justified. Once you have removed the innocent bystanders, you can then more effectively access and target the criminal element and activities taking place on East Third Avenue.
It might seem odd that my proposal sends away the "good ones" and keeps the "troublemakers" in our own backyards, but I believe it is the only way East Downtown will ever overcome the NIMBYs (Not in My Backyard) who will oppose any social services placed within their community, and provide the desperately needed and much overdue relief to the residents, employees, property owners, and business owners of East Downtown. My proposal undermines these dissenters' arguments because we keep the drunks, druggies and criminals in our backyard, not export them to theirs.
In addition, it is important to me that my solution is not to "kick the can" and make it someone else's problem. I would never wish the struggles and hardships that my neighborhood in East Downtown endures on any other neighborhood in this city.
Whether this city likes it or not, it is time we as a community acknowledge that the heart of the support system for the homeless is not downtown anymore. It is on East Tudor. The support left downtown and the people did not follow. The ANMC, ANTHC, Southcentral Foundation, Providence Hospital, APD, UAA, APU and Alaska Career Academy are all within one mile of each other on East Tudor. All of the resources a person requires to becoming a functioning member of our society are on East Tudor. There is nothing for these people downtown except booze and drugs. If we are truly being honest with ourselves, East Third Avenue is where this city for years has dumped its homeless so they don't have to look at them, not because that is where they can actually help them.
Every time the topic of bed shortage for the homeless comes up, the conversation should be directed to the currently available municipal land directly next door to the APD. That would be accountability at its finest.
Rob Cupples is a lifelong Alaskan and longtime Third Avenue property owner in Anchorage.
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