Anchorage Assembly votes to use the Golden Lion as housing for homeless, not emergency shelter

The Best Western Golden Lion Hotel
Anchorage bought the Golden Lion Hotel in December of 2020, with the intent of turning it into community substance abuse treatment center. That could still happen, though the Anchorage Assembly indicated Tuesday that it should become housing — as opposed to an emergency shelter — for people without homes. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Hundreds of hotel rooms and emergency shelter beds in Anchorage will continue to be available to people without homes through at least the end of the year. The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday committed $3.5 million more for ongoing shelter, meal and navigation services through Dec. 31. 

The Assembly also decided that the city-owned, former Golden Lion Hotel in the Tudor area will not be part of the emergency response this winter. The Assembly struck it from its emergency cold weather sheltering plan adopted last month. 

However, most Assembly members do want to use the Golden Lion’s 85 rooms in the city’s non-emergency homelessness response. 

“I do not want to see the Golden Lion used as a shelter, never proposed it be used as a shelter,” Assembly member Meg Zaletel said. “But it does make sense as housing. … Housing is the solution to homelessness.”

Zaletel argued that it’s cheaper, and more stable to essentially pay the rent for someone in a city-owned asset than to pay for a bed in a less stable, emergency shelter setting. She said the savings could pay for services that prevent homelessness. 

In an interview, Assembly member Jamie Allard said the distinction between using it as an emergency shelter and housing for the homeless isn’t meaningful to her, since it would be serving the same population. Allard was the only Assembly member to vote against the Golden Lion change. 

But, the distinction may resolve legal issues related to city land use codes and a past Assembly commitment not to use the Golden Lion as an emergency shelter. 

There was a lot of political finger-pointing during public testimony and Assembly discussion on Tuesday about who did what that led to the repeated displacement and relocation of the city’s homeless residents this year. 

“I’ll be honest with you, I really don’t feel like getting in the middle of a political fight,” Mayor Dave Bronson’s chief of staff, Adam Trombley, told the Assembly. “I have no desire to relitigate the past. It doesn’t change anything. I don’t – my goal is to get along and to find solutions.” 

Trombley said one of the next steps for the Golden Lion to become housing is for the Assembly and administration to agree on a legal land use designation.

The city’s homelessness response beyond 2022 is expected to be handled through the Assembly and administration’s annual budgeting process, under way now.

Jeremy Hsieh has worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He lived in Juneau from 2008 to 2022 and now lives in Anchorage.

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