Even if all goes as planned, hundreds of people currently staying in Anchorage’s emergency winter shelters, including at Sullivan Arena, may have nowhere to stay if the facilities shutter as usual this spring, city officials told Assembly members Wednesday.
The center is meant to be a “welcoming front door” for unhoused people, offering coffee, showers and connections to services. But it’s not a shelter.
The facility has been at the center of a protracted fight for years over opening more beds for treatment and support services.
Most frostbite cases are mild. But the most severe cold injuries can have devastating, life-altering consequences that include losing fingers, toes, hands, feet and skin to amputation.
After Tuesday’s Assembly vote approving the expansion, there was some confusion between city officials, slowing the process of adding beds.
The unanimous vote followed an acrimonious back-and-forth between Assembly members, Mayor Bronson and members of his administration. Up to 360 people are now cleared to stay at Sullivan Arena.
The arena’s warming area — a 30-by-240-foot space separate from the shelter and its beds and services — has been crowded with overflow. More than 100 people use it on most days and nights.
The deceased were found all over: In city parks. Tucked behind office buildings. In an encampment alongside one of the busiest roads in Alaska. The youngest was 30. The oldest was 74. A mother of seven. A former chef.
The organization overseeing the city’s homelessness response system says recent data doesn’t match what Bronson officials say is needed.
The Anchorage Assembly reinstated funding in the 2023 city budget that the downtown shelter says it needs to make its recent increase to 120 beds permanent.
On Monday, the administration sent Assembly members a resolution calling for an increase of 160 additional beds at the shelter through March of next year. Bronson officials plan to lay the measure on the table for a vote during Tuesday’s Assembly meeting, according to the email.
The funding will help set up security and trash cleaning services at three city properties near the shelter. The president of Fairview Community Council called it “a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.”
Residents and business owners have cleaned up graffiti, hired security guards, tried to resuscitate people and — more than once – discovered bodies. They say nowhere in Anchorage will accept a low-barrier shelter until the city comes up with a way to deal with neighborhood impacts.
The nonprofit Henning Inc., a relatively new player among the city’s social service providers, insists it will not repeat the mistakes and policy missteps that gave the Sullivan Arena shelter a bad reputation in the past.
At least $6.5 million has already been sunk into the project, which was already underway after the Bronson administration authorized millions in work without the required Assembly approval.
The Assembly halted construction on the project last month, after the revelation that the Bronson administration pushed ahead with millions in construction work without first getting the Assembly’s approval.
By midday Friday, almost everything had been cleared, aside from a dozen or so camps still occupied by homeless residents and a few abandoned or broken-down vehicles that need to be towed out.
The campers who stayed at Centennial after the Sullivan Arena reopened as a shelter face a Thursday deadline to leave the public campground, even as officials concede shelter space remains in short supply.
The municipality is now obligated to pay for the work the general construction manager has done so far — under a contract upgrade that hasn’t been approved — or face a lawsuit, city attorneys say.
In this episode, host Elizabeth Harball talks to ADN reporter Zachariah Hughes about why, as winter looms, city officials are still struggling to agree on a plan to shelter people who are homeless in Anchorage.
At a special meeting Monday, Assembly members fast-tracked new measures intended to secure an additional 270 shelter beds, primarily by using rooms in a Spenard hotel and the city-owned Golden Lion building in Midtown.
The city had previously shut down Sullivan as a mass shelter in June. Now it’s shuttling unhoused Alaskans back to the arena.
The Assembly’s initial plan included using the Sullivan to shelter 150 people and leasing 85 rooms in the former Golden Lion Hotel. The mayor’s office wants to expand capacity at Sullivan.
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson said he plans to lock the gate and the restrooms and shut off electricity and water. The city will begin moving campers back to the Sullivan early Saturday.
The proposed plan for emergency winter shelter and housing for the homeless includes the use of the former Golden Lion Hotel in Midtown and Sullivan Arena.