Anchorage Assembly’s tentative emergency shelter plan includes once again using Sullivan Arena

A large tan building with a stairwell in the front
The Sullivan Arena shelter had housed more than 300 people for most of the past two years. It closed on June 30. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage’s Sullivan Arena may once again become a homeless shelter.

During an Assembly Housing and Homelessness committee meeting on Wednesday, Assembly members worked through a plan to house roughly 350 homeless people through the winter. 

In August, the Assembly approved the creation of a task force to come up with a plan for winter sheltering, after the Bronson administration had yet to provide one. Bronson’s administration has since released its own emergency shelter plan.

The task force released its preliminary plan last week. Among their recommendations was using the former Golden Lion hotel as well as the Dempsey Ice Arena for sheltering. 

The committee meeting was packed with people opposed to using the Dempsey Arena. The facility is used for girls and disabled youth hockey, and is in close proximity to West High School and Romig Middle School. Shawne Fitzgerald, who said she has a child enrolled at West, expressed concerns over safety.

“Please tell me how putting a shelter within feet of two schools is somehow a plan that could even be considered,” Fitzgerald said. “Not only are these schools occupied with literally thousands of children, but walking paths between those campuses and Dempsey are utilized every day.

Anchorage residents packed the Assembly chambers, opposed to a proposal from the city’s emergency shelter task force to use the Dempsey Ice Arena as a shelter. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

During the meeting, Assembly members reviewed several facilities identified by the task force as sheltering options that could become available by the end of the month, when the Centennial Park campground will be closed. The area has been the site of a makeshift homeless camp after the Sullivan Arena mass shelter closed in late June.

Members ended up selecting the Sullivan as well as the Golden Lion as part of a tentative emergency shelter plan. South Anchorage Assembly member Suzanne LaFrance lauded the compromise. 

“I just want to point out, not only do we have a plan. We have a plan that doesn’t involve taking any facilities that impact youth hockey,” LaFrance said, followed by applause from the crowd.

The Assembly’s plan would house up to 150 people at the Sullivan and up to 120 at the Golden Lion. Additionally, officials from Brother Francis Shelter and Covenant House say they can increase capacity by 20 and 25 individuals, respectively, with another 40 spots available at Bean’s café.

The Assembly is set to vote on appropriating funds for its emergency shelter plan during a special Monday night. The exact dollar figure is pending.

“I look forward to the Assembly approving this plan on Monday,” said Assembly member Felix Rivera, who chairs the Housing and Homelessness committee, in a statement. “After that, it will be up to the Mayor to officially sign off on and quickly implement the plan.”

Members from Bronson’s administration present at the Wednesday meeting did not provide comment on any of the suggested shelter locations, after repeated inquiries from Rivera.

“We’re here to listen to the public,” said Adam Trombley, the mayor’s chief of staff. “We want to hear the perspective of everybody before we make any commitments.”

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