Anchorage Assembly moves to create task force to address winter sheltering needs

A man with a scraggly beard and balding head at a desk behind a computer monitor
Felix Rivera at a June 2021 committee meeting of the Anchorage Assembly (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage Assembly is creating a task force to come up with a plan for sheltering houseless residents in the winter. 

The motion comes as some Assembly members say Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration is failing to adequately prepare to address homelessness ahead of winter. 

At an Assembly Housing and Homelessness committee meeting Wednesday morning, member Felix Rivera said Bronson officials were supposed to provide a winter sheltering plan. But no members of the mayor’s administration were there to present their plan.

“This is the hottest topic we have going on in the municipality, and to not have the administration here, I think is just a dereliction, frankly, of duty,” Rivera said.

Rivera read email responses from the Bronson administration that said the plan would instead come at the end of the month. 

At a special Assembly meeting later that night, Rivera presented a resolution to establish a task force made up of service providers, community stakeholders and city officials. 

“In my opinion, we can’t afford to half-ass this,” Rivera said. “And we need to do this in a way that relies on the immense amount of expertise we have in the community.”

Member Kameron Perez-Verdia introduced the resolution with Rivera. He says he doesn’t think the mayor’s administration is capable of coming up with a winter sheltering option on their own. 

“I have no faith at this point that a plan is being developed and that we will see it,” Perez-Verdia said. “Especially in time to address the crisis that’s in front of us, which is 200 people living in mud at a campground.”

The resolution to create a task force passed 8 to 2, with members Jamie Allard and Chris Constant opposed.   

Bronson administration officials were not present at the meeting, though municipal attorney Mario Bird called in to say he believes that there are separation of powers issues with the resolution. He says he’s fine with the task force, but he thinks language in the resolution could affect decisions made by the mayor. 

Currently, at least 180 people are living at the Centennial Park campground following the closure of the Sullivan Arena mass shelter in late June. Another roughly 330 are staying at the Aviator Hotel and Guest House.

The Bronson administration has plans to build a large navigation center and shelter. The administration says it could start sheltering people in November with construction wrapping in February.

This story has been corrected to clarify that while a member of Mayor Bronson’s administration was at Wednesday’s Homelessness Committee meeting, they did not present the mayor’s winter sheltering plan.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.