Anchorage’s largest homeless shelter might stay open past April 30 after all, in a limited capacity.
Anchorage Assembly members Chris Constant, Felix Rivera and Daniel Volland announced Wednesday that they will ask the full Assembly next Tuesday to extend the Sullivan Arena’s use as a shelter, specifically for people with the most severe mobility, mental health and behavioral health issues.
Constant said this group has complex needs and nowhere else to go.
“We are going to have to come up with a proposal that will allow them to stay for a short term at the Sullivan Arena or an alternative facility if the administration is able to identify one,” he said. “This is the right and humane thing to do.”
Anchorage’s leaders have struggled with how and when to close the shelter at the Sullivan. The hockey arena was always meant to be a temporary solution, at first when the COVID-19 pandemic slashed existing shelter capacity, and again this past winter as an emergency cold-weather shelter. In the last three years, city leaders have considered several proposals to add more low-barrier shelter space, only to hit impasses because of neighborhood pushback, policy conflicts or administrative dysfunction.
The Assembly set April 30 as the deadline to close the Sullivan shelter, and they’re scrambling to find places for people to go.
For weeks, the Assembly’s shelter consultant Cathleen McLaughlin has recommended the Sullivan be stepped-down, limiting its capacity to the highest-need people past April 30. She estimates there are about 174 people in this group.
In total, about 350 people have been sleeping in the Sullivan with another 100-plus using a warming area.
The Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness hasn’t taken a position on the proposal to step-down capacity. But the coalition on Wednesday did advocate for keeping the Sullivan open one extra day.
“So right now, April 30 is a Sunday,” said coalition Executive Director Meg Zaletel told an Assembly committee. “That’s a little problematic, because services typically are not available on Sundays, and Sundays are just a really hard time to have any kind of support for people if they are going to be moving.”
Zaletel is also a member of the Assembly. She recuses herself from votes having to do with the coalition’s work.
Zaletel said lessons learned from the abrupt closure of the Sullivan Arena shelter last year informed some ways to smooth the transition this year. She said there will be a pop-up event in the Sullivan’s parking lot on April 26 to provide some basic necessities for people who will be camping outside, and targeted outreach to address food and water plans.
The particulars of the extension proposals are still being worked on, and are expected to be last-minute additions to the Assembly’s regular agenda on Tuesday.
Constant said the Assembly is also working with the administration on longer-term solutions that “are going to hopefully surprise the community.”
“We are on the crux of a solution that’s going to finally change the equation for Anchorage and its homeless population,” Constant said.
He said to stay tuned, a lot is coming in the near future.