Anchorage officials say they’ll soon be able to move people out of a big homeless camp on the outskirts of downtown and into hotel rooms or temporary shelters.
At an Assembly committee meeting Wednesday, the city’s homelessness coordinator Alexis Johnson laid out the plan to move Anchorage’s entire unsheltered population, estimated at about 450 people, indoors as temperatures drop.
“It’s our goal to get Third and Ingra posted and closed, and to move all clients out of that encampment into housing and into shelter,” Johnson said. “Third and Ingra is our first priority.”
Crime and nuisance issues have been especially pronounced at that site, where a lot of people have settled in along with tents, junked cars and RVs.
Like last winter, the city’s current shelter plan includes reserving hundreds of hotel beds, and paying some nonprofits to provide extra space specifically for families and young people. Some of these pieces are already in place, some need Assembly budgeting and contract approvals, expected to be up at Assembly meetings on Sept. 26 and Oct. 10.
Unlike last winter, the plan does not include a mass shelter, like the one that was once run out of the Sullivan Arena where sometimes 500 people stayed.
City officials say they expect far fewer people will need a low-barrier, walk-in shelter this winter. Homelessness experts think the total number of people living outdoors has been trending down lately, after several hotels were converted into low-income housing this summer.
Johnson thinks a much smaller, temporary shelter will do. The city is exploring setting one up in a former Solid Waste Services building in the Midtown area on 56th Avenue near the Seward Highway, after the Assembly asked the administration to look into it.
“That building is available and it would meet the need of a congregate location,” Johnson said Wednesday. “There’s a few basic things that need to be fixed before it is opened.”
That discussion will continue in a work session on Sept. 29. Johnson wants to set capacity at 150 beds, which she thinks will be more than enough to shelter the rest of Anchorage’s homeless population.
Outreach workers are spreading the word and helping campers make arrangements to move into shelters in anticipation of openings in October.
When the hotel rooms open up, Johnson said, the city plans to start the process to clear large encampments in public spaces. Johnson also said that the handwashing stations and portable toilets at unofficial camps will be removed in October, due to freezing temperatures.
Assembly Chair Chris Constant said some members are working on putting together a local ballot question that will ask voters to authorize bonds to pay for improved public bathroom facilities.
“We’re doing that to make sure we come up with a permanent resolution to this issue of portable bathrooms,” Constant said. “Not just for camps, but public spaces in general.”
During the Wednesday meeting, Constant specifically mentioned “the Portland Loo.” He didn’t elaborate, but that’s the brand name for a product the City of Portland, Oregon, owns and sells to other communities. The public toilets were designed specifically in response to homelessness to be easy to clean and maintain, and to discourage bad behavior.