Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration says the city is still on track to close its largest homeless shelter and open smaller sites, despite the recent resignation of two key members of a group that developed the plan.
“Any fear that the administration would try to rework this policy is just false,” Larry Baker, a consultant working for the administration, said at a Monday night Assembly meeting.
Baker is part of a working group of city officials and Assembly members that agreed to the shelter plan last month. The plan calls for the city to set up several shelters around to city that would house the 400 or so people who currently stay at the Sullivan Arena shelter, as well as about 300 others who are staying in hotel shelters set up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Assembly members said moving out of the Sullivan Arena is an urgent priority, but the city hasn’t yet announced when it plans to close the mass shelter.
Assembly members say they want to return the Sullivan Arena to its intended winter use as an ice rink so a new professional hockey team can compete there. Also, federal funding tied to the disaster declaration that is paying for most of the city’s shelter operations could expire sometime next year.
At Monday’s meeting, Assembly members questioned the administration about where that left discussions on shelters, but Larry Baker, the remaining administration voice, said the administration still fully supports the plan.
“This negotiated effort was a unified effort between us and the Assembly members, and we will honor that tradition,” Baker said.
Baker said that Bronson will replace at least one of the working group members with Joe Gerace, Anchorage’s acting health director. Gerace has not yet been confirmed by the Assembly. His confirmation vote is scheduled for next week. The other member is yet to be announced, but Baker said that the administration will have a replacement soon and is hoping to resume meetings of the full group by Wednesday.
The Assembly on Monday ultimately approved the framework to exit the Sullivan Arena shelter as well as several other hotel shelters stood up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the plan, the working group still needs to review five potential shelter sites scattered across the city, and select a combination of them. The idea is that the different sites would cater to different needs, including people with medical needs and those with substance abuse issues.
If the group can agree to a plan, it will submit it to the Assembly for approval and funding.
“This is just the beginning, this is not the end,” said Baker, “What will follow is appropriations items and, and other issues that will come before this body.”
The lowest cost estimates for the plan, based on a preliminary analysis, amounts to about $41 million. The shelters would be able to house up to about 750 people. The group says the shelter sites could be funded through a combination of public and private funds.