A navigation center to help steer Anchorage’s homeless population to the proper resources to meet their individual needs and to provide temporary shelter passed the Assembly after a long and contentious debate that began last summer, upon the swearing in of Mayor Dave Bronson.
The navigation center was part of a negotiation participated in by the Assembly and the Mayor’s Office, and the agreement included purchasing the Sockeye Inn to house medically fragile people, with the navigation center being a centerpiece as a place where homeless people could start their journey back to sobriety, stability, and functionality. The center staff will help them get the proper services.
The other parts of the plan, including purchase of the Sockeye Inn, had already been started when it appeared opposition members of the Assembly were ready to pull the rug out from under the Mayor’s Office on the one piece that he wanted — the navigation center. A bait-and-switch was under way during Tuesday night’s meeting.
In the end, the Assembly approved $6.2 million for constructing the navigation center, after Assemblyman Kameron Perez-Verdia changed his mind at the last minute and voted in favor of it.
Currently, the city is spending over $3 million a month to shelter people in the Sullivan Arena, which was converted to a shelter by the Berkowitz Administration. Taxpayers may be on the hook for the costs, since FEMA is unlikely to pay for it. The restoration of the Sullivan Arena to become a venue for arts, sports, and entertainment will cost the city millions of dollars, as the destruction has been extensive to that facility. It may be years before it can be used for its intended purpose.
From the mayor’s team, Larry Baker made a last-ditch appeal on Tuesday to the Assembly, which was balking at the cost and size of the center. It’s now been whittled down to a 150-bed shelter and navigation center.
Voting against the plan that had been negotiated and agreed to by its own members on the negotiating team were Assembly members Chris Constant, Forrest Dunbar, Pete Petersen, and Austin Quinn Davidson. Constant had been part of the negotiating team that forged the agreement that he ultimately voted against.
The entire plan to address homelessness comes with major commitments from the nonprofit community, including the Rasmuson Foundation.