With fresh snow and cold temperatures back, a shelter consultant on Tuesday begrudgingly recommended the Anchorage Assembly keep the Sullivan Arena open as an emergency cold weather shelter through May, a month longer than planned.
The Assembly hired the consultant, Cathleen McLaughlin, last month to conduct third-party oversight of the municipality’s emergency cold weather shelters, the biggest of which is the Sullivan Arena. The shelters are set to close April 30.
During a town hall at the Sullivan on Tuesday, McLaughlin asked people staying there if they were ready to leave and where they planned to go on May 1.
“Many are in the queue for a voucher or a housing opportunity, but they’re on waitlists,” she said. “They don’t have a place to go.”
McLaughlin said as of Monday night, 350 people were sleeping on cots in the Sullivan and 110 people used the warming area. She recommended using the extra month to step down the shelter’s capacity, prioritizing space for the most vulnerable clients, like people who use wheelchairs and walkers.
At its Tuesday evening meeting, the Assembly did not act on her recommendation to keep the Sullivan shelter open longer, and is moving forward with a fresh push to stand up a permanent, low-barrier shelter before next winter.
Assembly member Felix Rivera, who chairs the Housing and Homelessness Committee, acknowledged there will be consequences of closing the shelters.
“So come May 1, we will have a big increase in the number of unsheltered individuals in our community,” he said. “I don’t think we will be able to mitigate 100% of those impacts. We just don’t have the resources to do that.”
The discussion on how to close the shelters and reduce the impacts will continue in his committee meeting at 11 a.m. Wednesday.