Advocates concerned about where Anchorage’s homeless will go after Sullivan shelter closes

The inside of Sullivan Arena currently serving as housing for the homeless.
Cots inside of Sullivan Arena on Feb. 9, 2022. The arena is currently serving as housing for the homeless. (Adam Nicely/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage homelessness advocates say they’re concerned about what will happen when the mass shelter at the Sullivan Arena closes at the end of the month.

They want to know where the people will go who are staying there.

At a news conference Wednesday called by the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, executive director Meg Zaletel said she hasn’t gotten answers from Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration. Zaletel is also an Anchorage Assembly member. Because of her job at the coalition, she does not typically vote on issues related to homelessness, including funding for the navigation center. 

“We don’t know what that transition looks like for individuals other than they will have to go into the community unsheltered,” Zaletel said.

The plan from Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration to transition from the Sullivan involves a new, more permanent shelter and navigation center at the corner of Tudor and Elmore roads. The Anchorage Assembly appropriated millions of dollars to build the new shelter. But it’s still months away from completion. 

READ MORE: As Anchorage phases out its main homeless shelter, providers fear a surge in campers

Zaletel says the administration hasn’t been clear on how they’ll provide for food, hygiene and transportation needs of people experiencing homelessness following the shelter’s closure on June 30.

About 219 people are using the shelter. It’s the state’s largest shelter. And Zaletel says there aren’t many other places for them to go. Places like the Brother Francis Shelter and the complex care facilities are at or nearing capacity, with most housing program waitlists full. 

“We have no capacity across our system,” Zaletel said. “We continue to have significant inflow into the system, coupled with camp abatements, which the first notices came out yesterday — official notices for 43 camps. So we really are at a point where we don’t know what to tell people.”

Zaletel is also concerned with the timing of the abatements — that’s when city officials clear out a homeless camp. She says in the past, the city issued abatements when there was adequate housing and resources for homeless people. 

“We are unaware of any adequate shelter capacity to justify the abatement of camps right now,” Zaletel said.

Bronson spokesman Corey Allen Young said in an email that the administration believes there is adequate shelter space, and the city will continue to clear outdoor camps. He said the new shelter and navigation center should be open in late fall. In the interim, he said, the city will continue to work with other organizations to provide housing options. 

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