On the inside, the new 3rd Avenue Resource & Navigation Center in Anchorage looks nothing like the industrial warehouse-turned-soup kitchen that used to operate here. There’s a lot of natural light filling the space, inviting furniture and cheery paint on the walls.
David Rittenberg is the senior director of adult homeless services for Catholic Social Services, the nonprofit operating the new facility. During a tour on Wednesday, he pointed out a lot of new windows.
“So really brightening up the space and using design and architecture and color to really try to lift people up,” he said.
The new facility is opening in stages this month, at the former Bean’s Cafe building near downtown. It’s specifically designed to improve the way people experiencing homelessness address some immediate needs — think hot showers, laundry or charging a phone — and bigger goals like getting housing and access to other services. It’s one of the first facilities of its kind in the state, and one more step forward in Anchorage’s push to end homelessness.
In the new lobby, navigators will be standing by, said Rittenberg.
“To engage with people and say, ‘Hey, what are you here for today?’ You know, ‘What kind of services can we get you connected to?’” Rittenberg said. “We have about 30 partners lined up that are going to be providing outreach engagement or providing services or classes here on site.”
There are newly renovated, accessible bathrooms and showers, a secure storage room for people to drop off belongings, and multiple small rooms set up like mini-offices in a co-working space. Some are intended for people to have private conversations, some are set up with docking stations for laptops and teleconferencing equipment.
It’s a relatively new way of providing services to people who are homeless in Anchorage. Social service organizations have worked together before to set up pop-up sites where someone can connect with multiple agencies in one location. But permanently getting this many social service agencies under one roof here takes things to a new level. Rittenberg said it will make a big difference.
“I think that was one of the major challenges, is services were scattered in a lot of places,” he said.
For example, individual outreach teams do visit the Brother Francis Shelter next door.
“But it would be one team a day, you know?” Rittenberg said. “So if you needed to go see three or four different places to, you know, get whatever is on your list checked off, oftentimes it was, you know, a bus pass and a prayer.”
Rittenberg said they will also run a shuttle service to help people get to and from the center.
Anchorage Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said the facility is a critical addition to homelessness resources available in the city. She said it’s also a sign of how far attitudes about addressing homelessness have shifted in just a few years.
“I don’t think this project would have been possible five years ago,” LaFrance said. “And as a community, we have grown so much in our understanding of what it takes to solve homelessness. We talk about the issue differently.”
She said this project is a perfect example of many different groups working together on homelessness.
The upfront costs for purchasing and renovating the facility came from the Rasmuson Foundation and Weidner Apartment Homes.
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson also sang the project’s praises.
“I look forward to building on the successes in 2023 to provide more shelter space, more treatment beds, and more stable housing for folks looking to get back on their feet, and that’s what this is all about,” he said.
The 3rd Avenue Resource & Navigation Center is expected to open to walk-ins at the end of the month.