Right before Thanksgiving, Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson announced that the Municipality of Anchorage was no longer pursuing purchase of the old Alaska Club on Tudor Road. Readers will remember the debate last summer about the possible purchase of four properties to help individuals experiencing homelessness. The Alaska Club was intended to serve as a day and night shelter, and maybe more significantly, as a daytime engagement center in which clients connect with services including housing assistance, job training, literacy classes and more. We are thankful that the Municipality performed good due diligence before purchase, but are saddened that we now need to find another location.
The work to make the experience of homelessness “rare, brief and one-time” is difficult. This requires partnership between government (federal, state and our local government), donors (individuals, businesses and foundations), nonprofit agencies and the individuals experiencing homelessness. COVID-19 has made the work even more challenging, both due to the public health emergency and due to the economic fallout. Thankfully, federal resources have been available through the summer and fall for enhanced unemployment insurance, business protection and rent and mortgage assistance. But those resources will soon be exhausted. Already, more people are seeking emergency shelter this winter than in recent years. The risk of even more homelessness in the immediate future is high.
We have learned valuable lessons this year. Providing space for day and night-time shelter is important. We also need to bring resources to clients at day shelters. Case managers, medical clinics, job training, etc., are essential so that clients can move from emergency shelters to permanent housing.
We want to thank the acting mayor and the Anchorage Assembly for their work to make unsheltered homelessness a thing of the past. Having day and night shelters in several places in Anchorage is a key step in this journey. We hope that the municipal administration and the Assembly will continue to look for a location in Midtown for a day and night shelter that will also provide engagement center services during the day.
We are encouraged that the acquisition of the Golden Lion Hotel for the establishment of a residential treatment center is moving forward. Treatment of substance abuse is a key part of the array of services needed to assist people to independence. This facility and the residential services provided there have been needed for a long time in Anchorage, both to support those people experiencing homelessness and to support others with homes.
In summary, we want to encourage Anchorage to continue the work to make homelessness rare, brief, and one-time. Housing is essential to that journey. Rent and mortgage assistance to prevent homelessness, shelters to keep people safe both day and night, engagement centers, and assistance into permanent housing build a stronger path to success. Timing is key with public-private partnerships in place and committed to the work.
Thank you to the Anchorage Assembly members, to the leaders of the municipality, to the leaders and staff members of our nonprofit agencies. We must stay the course and keep on moving. Please do not let the inability to complete the purchase of the old Alaska Club prevent us from continuing to make progress. We must find another facility to serve that purpose.
This commentary was submitted by Dick Mandsager on behalf of the Anchorage Homelessness Leadership Council. Other members supporting this submission include Preston Simmons, Providence Health and Services Alaska; Greg Deal, Wells Fargo Bank; Mike Abbott, Alaska Mental Health Trust; Diane Kaplan, Rasmuson Foundation; Sophie Minich, Cook Inlet Region Inc.; Carol Gore, Cook Inlet Housing Authority; Matthew Schultz, First Presbyterian Church; Paul Landes, GCI; and Greg Cerbana, Weidner Apartment Homes.
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