Years after it was acquired by the municipality, the Golden Lion hotel is finally on track to be used for homeless services. And although it’s been a tortuous road to get to this point — and one that engendered much bad blood between Mayor Dave Bronson and the members of the Anchorage Assembly — the simple fact of making even a little progress toward better homeless solutions in Alaska’s largest city is worth a sigh of relief.
There was reason to believe this day might never come — at least not under Bronson’s watch. On the campaign trail, Bronson told supporters, many of whom lived near the Golden Lion and were vocally opposed to its use for homeless services, he would sell the hotel when he became mayor, a promise he attempted to keep despite a paucity of other feasible options for long-term homeless shelter and drug/alcohol treatment.
As recently as May of 2022, Bronson claimed he would sell the building and that multiple potential buyers were lined up. Late last summer, the administration told Assembly members and the community that a future state highway project would result in the building’s purchase and demolition, a claim that was quickly shown to be a substantial misrepresentation. It wasn’t until January that Bronson acquiesced on the use of the building, after costs for his preferred navigation center site had ballooned and the Assembly pulled the plug. But even then, a timeline for the building’s conversion to homeless services was far from clear until the recent announcement that the former hotel may see use as early as next month.
The compromise the mayor and Assembly appear to have struck is that although the Golden Lion will be used, it will not be a substance abuse treatment center, which had been a particular bone of contention for Bronson and his supporters. Instead, it will house homeless residents with disabilities, a group particularly at risk and ill-served by mass-shelter options such as the Sullivan Arena — or worse, outdoor sites such as Centennial Campground. The administration and Assembly members were able to find common ground on a site that had poisoned the well of previous attempts at homeless solutions; it’s a hopeful sign, however slight, that further progress in addressing shelter needs is possible.
To be sure, the 80-85 beds provided at the Golden Lion won’t solve or even make a huge dent in Anchorage’s unhoused population. But it’s a step forward. It will keep dozens of vulnerable residents under a safe roof and close to health services. It will mean that the municipality won’t be wringing its hands over sites to aid its homeless population while a building acquired for that purpose sits empty and unused. And it will mean that the mayor and Assembly can move on from a building that had become a symbol of their bitter divisions — and on, we hope, to locations where they may have an easier time working toward a common purpose.
Anchorage has a long way to go before its homeless issues are meaningfully addressed, and the Golden Lion is just one piece of that puzzle. But now it’s a piece that’s moving into place.