The Anchorage Assembly, on a vote of 10-1, decided to approve an extension of cold-weather shelter money for homeless, with the price tag of $2 million more.
Eagle River member Scott Myers was the lone dissenting vote against keeping the former Solid Waste Services building and other shelters open until late spring for the homeless who are hardest to help because of their behavioral issues.
Without the vote, the funds for the indigent, criminal, drug- and alcohol-abusing portion of the homeless population would run out before then, possibly by the end of this month.
With as much snow as Anchorage has accumulated and the time it will take it to melt, the cold weather could last into May.
Mayor Dave Bronson agreed that the shelters must be kept open. He said he had been working with the Assembly on the topic of the periods of deep snow and prolonged cold weather. “As we navigate these challenging weather conditions, I want to voice my strong support for funding the extension of the cold-weather shelter,” he said.
Some 51 people are known to have died in the outdoors in Anchorage in the 2023 calendar year, most of them homeless people with addiction problems. Anchorage temperatures this week are in the low single digits during the day and below zero at night, and by next week, expected to reach -13 at night as the state goes through a cold spell. Those who brave the cold in tents along trails and in greenbelts are experiencing cold-related injuries, such as frostbite.
The $2 million was not all. It was accompanied by a 10-1 vote to ask the Legislature for a $4 million matching appropriation to provide funds to keep the Anchorage shelters operating year-round, not just in cold weather. The Sullivan Arena, which was opened by former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, has been returned to use as an event venue
The United Way of Anchorage in 2017 said that each homeless person in Anchorage was then costing the public about $60,000 per year in public services, including temporary shelter, community services, emergency services, and health. From 2020 to 2023, taxpayers Anchorage spent more than $161 million on the estimated 1,760 homeless individuals, more than $91,000 per homeless person, according to figures from last year.