Anchorage homelessness group to hold first public meeting as it tries to solve shelter bed shortage

Cots laid out on an arena floor
Cots spread out on the floor of the Sullivan Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

A working group of Assembly members and Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration will present preliminary ideas on how to solve the city’s shortage of shelter beds at a meeting Wednesday morning. 

It’s the first public meeting of the working group, which the Assembly formed last month to try to ensure the estimated 450 unsheltered Anchorage residents have a place to sleep this winter. The group is also working on plans to build up the city’s longer-term shelter capacity. 

The group is an effort to find common ground between the Bronson administration, which is pushing for a large, temporary shelter, and the Assembly majority that has been pushing for smaller, disbursed shelters. 

In July, the Bronson administration proposed building a temporary mass shelter in East Anchorage that could house 450 people, but the Assembly shot it down. That stalled efforts to move out of the current mass shelter at the Sullivan Arena.

RELATED: Amid shelter debate, these Anchorage campers say they’re staying outside

Speaking on Talk of Alaska Tuesday morning, Bronson’s homelessness coordinator and working group member Dr. John Morris said the group is still considering the East Anchorage temporary shelter plan.

“Is it on the table? Yes, it is. But other options are being considered too. Everything’s on the table,” he said, “I think folks are going to be impressed with the amount of work that the Assembly members and the facilitators and administration have done taking a hard look at lots of options.”

The working group also includes Craig Campbell, Bronson’s chief of staff, and Larry Baker, an Anchorage real estate developer who was hired as a consultant. 

South Anchorage Assembly member John Weddleton said that aside from the large shelter idea, the group is considering a list of potential shelter properties compiled and analyzed by the last administration, under then-Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson. 

“The plan for tomorrow is to present that brainstormed list of properties,” said Weddleton. “And then our thinking on botto- line criteria, what you’d have to have at any mass care site, and then a draft ranking.”

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Weddleton is one of three Assembly members in the working group. He said the group has made good progress in coming up with standards for assessing new buildings. The other Assembly members in the group are Chris Constant, who represents downtown, and Meg Zaletel, who represents Midtown.

Any ideas the group proposes would have to go to the full Assembly through a normal public process. Wednesday’s meeting will be held at Election Central in Ship Creek at 9 a.m. 

Lex Treinen covers culture, homelessness, politics and corrections for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at ltreinen@alaskapublic.org.

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