The homeless in Anchorage are overwhelmingly Alaska Native and many need mental and physical health care.
But they also need shelter in Alaska’s largest city, especially in winter. That shelter cannot be in the greenbelts and byways of Anchorage, Dave Bronson has said during his campaign for mayor. Now, he’s got a plan.
Mayor-elect Bronson’s transition team’s homelessness coordinator Dr. John Morris, an anesthesiologist by day, presented to the Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday the Bronson framework to address homelessness in Anchorage. The plan includes building a temporary shelter type structure in order to increase bed capacity. It’s near the Alaska Native Medical Center on East Tudor Road.
The Bronson Administration is also not calling it a homeless shelter, but a transition center, to indicate that its purpose is to get people the help they need in order to end their dangerous conditions on the streets.
“Our plan is based on the idea that we must provide adequate shelter to the unhoused populations of Anchorage. This is critical not only to provide for the needs of the unhoused, but also a necessary step in order to clean up our streets, abate camps, and make our public spaces safer for Anchorage families,” he said.
Bronson said his plan came together through months of discussion and engagement with people in the community who have worked with the homelessness issue.
The structure he proposes to build is one the same one used in places such as San Francisco, Reno, and elsewhere.
“This location is strategically located near medical service providers (both Providence and Alaska Native Medical Center) as well as law enforcement,” Bronson said. Although not permanent, “this will be a hardened structure, with concrete floors, bathrooms, heating, cafeteria, medical facilities, rehabilitation, job services and more.”
It will have emergency bed space and Bronson plans for an accelerated timetable to build it to quickly meet the needs of the homeless and allow for the Sullivan Arena to be returned to the community for traditional purposes. The Sullivan has been used as a shelter for homeless men after it was commandeered by former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, as a way of physically distancing men from each other in local shelters.
Bronson said the project should break ground this summer and provide shelter and services by fall.
Inside the transition center there will be wrap-around services “for a meaningful transition for the Anchorage homeless.”
“Again, this plan is not a solution to homelessness. It is simply the next step to addressing these issues with our partners while we work toward a permanent solution,” he said. “But as the citizens of Anchorage have demanded, while we address these issues with compassion, we must also work to make our streets and communities a cleaner, safer place to live, work and play. We have a moral obligation to fix these issues. The economic and social consequences are far too great if we don’t take back control of our city,” Bronson said.
Details of the plan include:
- Establish a proactive and transparent system, with citizen input, for continuously identifying, monitoring, and reporting the notice and abatement status of unauthorized camps within the Municipality along with the actions taken connect campers to services.
- Increase camp and street outreach and provide mobile assessments for Coordinated Entry System.
- Establish policies in municipal code and annually budget for rapid and efficient year-round notice, abatement, and cleanup of unauthorized camps, especially when camps present imminent health or public safety hazards.
- Collect data on individuals living in encampments to determine demographics, trends and to develop appropriate service options and collaborate with outreach workers to warmly transfer campers to interim shelters or transitional housing.
- Create active outreach to connect people panhandling and camping with the Coordinated Entry System to access housing, supports and case management.
Morris acknowledged that while shelter alone has never ended homelessness, “We have not found a single example of a city that ended homelessness without shelter.” He said the plan is one way the city can act to comply with the Martin v Boise decision, which says that camps can’t be abated unless there is a place for the homeless to go for shelter.
The plan says that existing structures around the city are inadequate in cost, function, and location, and that a navigation center, such as the one proposed, needs to be open and staffed 24 hours a day, and that people should not have to line up to enter at night. The place should also be designed to help a person navigate to permanent housing.
Several of the Assembly members asked good questions of Morris and seemed ready to look at the plan in greater depth.