Anchorage task force recommends using ice arena and Golden Lion building for winter sheltering

Eleven people at a meeting.
The Emergency Shelter Task Force task force begins their conference on Monday, Sep. 19th, 2022. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

The task force charged with helping Anchorage come up with an emergency winter shelter plan has issued its preliminary recommendations. Last month, the Anchorage Assembly set up the emergency winter shelter task force due to frustration over the lack of a plan from Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration. 

John Weddleton is a former Anchorage Assembly member and a member of the task force. He says the group looked at over 100 buildings for shelter options. 

“It ultimately got down to what are the Tier 1 (options soonest available) — what would be available and meet the requirements quickly,” Weddleton said. “Because we have a requirement to house people when it starts getting cold out.”

The timeline for the task force to identify possible city buildings to use this winter has been the end of September, when the makeshift homeless camp at the Centennial Park campground will be closed. Weddleton says the former Golden Lion hotel is one of the two shelter options the task force is strongly recommending. 

“Because it’s ready now,” Weddleton said. “It’s got beds, it’s got sheets on the beds. It’s ready.”

Bronson has historically been reluctant to use the Golden Lion, having campaigned to sell the building when he ran for mayor. Recently, he’s said he expects the state to eventually take over the building because the intersection it sits on is also the site of a planned highway safety project. 

The other building the task force recommends using for emergency shelter is the Dempsey Ice Arena. The task force estimates being able to house between 85 and 170 people at the Golden Lion, with another 240 to 260 people at the ice arena. It’s estimated that 350 people will be in need of shelter this winter. Both buildings are owned by the city.

The recommendations from the Emergency Shelter Task Force differ from Bronson’s plan, which was released shortly after the task force was created. The mayor’s plan includes using 20 portable buildings from the Anchorage School District and building a new navigation center and shelter.

READ MORE: City will no longer use 2 Anchorage rec centers as emergency homeless shelters, mayor says 

Terria Ware works with the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, which put the task force together. She says the task force considered aspects of the mayor’s plan, but didn’t recommend them for several reasons. The portable buildings weren’t deemed suitable due to concerns over restroom and shower facilities. Additionally, a decision on funding for the navigation center has been pushed to late October, which Ware says isn’t soon enough.

“We did not review the navigation center because we were really looking at what can happen in two weeks to 30 days,” Ware said. “So that got kind of knocked off Tier 1 and Tier 2.”

The task force described Tier 2 options as examining other city buildings that could be available in three months after review from the task force.  

Since releasing their recommendations on Friday, task force members say they haven’t heard any response from the mayor’s office.

“The administration looks forward to a public meeting where the task force’s recommendations as directed by the Anchorage Assembly is vetted out,” Bronson said in a statement Friday. “The administration will listen to the public on the Anchorage Assembly’s Taskforce recommendations before making decisions.“

Correction: This story has been corrected to show that not all buildings considered by the task force for shelters were city-owned.

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