Bronson homelessness solution: Temporary transition center near Native health center - Must Read Alaska
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Saturday, July 24, 2021
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Bronson homelessness solution: Temporary transition center near Native health center

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.

The mayor-elect’s plan is outlined in this set of slides, presented to the Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday.

Several of the Assembly members asked good questions of Morris and seemed ready to look at the plan in greater depth.

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Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Perhaps. I would give him a chance. But it should be coupled with enforcement of existing ordinances (like indecent exposure and public drunkenness) including punishment of both panhandlers and those enabling them. Send cops out to street corners to panhandle, then arrest those giving and give them public service in the shelter!
    I do hope that there is a place for non-profits, churches and volunteers to participate in the transition to functionality. The Salvation Army and AA both have good track record and hopefully are included.

  • Wow, I’m flabbergasted by the common sense here. I just got back from Washington state and the homeless live anywhere they please with no oversight, no sanitary services, no security, and no garbage services. Apparently, Democrat leaders in that state feel a “free for all” is the best way (same in Oregon and Calif). Reading this article shows there is a common sense approach, as opposed to a “not in my backyard” Democrat approach.

  • So where are the Native Corporations and Public Health Service in this crisis? Are these people mentally ill and addicted because they’re homeless, or are they homeless because they’re mentally ill? Isn’t this the chicken coming home to roost from the Mental Health Act of 1980?

  • I like the plan, particularly since it solves the Martin vs. Boise problem and allows immediate eviction from homeless camps illegally occupying public property.

    But I wonder where the funding is coming from on such a quickly moving plan? I suppose there is plenty of cash sloshing around in the Covid Relief Funds. Is it too late to cancel the Golden Lion purchase? Anybody want to buy a slightly used hotel?

  • Copy San Francisco? Seriously? Talk about a bait and switch. I wish I could take back my vote.

  • The more opportunities and safety blankets you give the substance abusers, the more substance abusers you will get in ANC. If the vast majority are natives, just maybe the native hospital should be offering a solution instead of building parking garages and other useless buildings.

  • Looks like a win win for starters. Wishing those without a roof over their heads stability, hospitality and better health and hope.

  • “We have not found a single example of a city that ended homelessness without shelter.” So, pray tell, where is an example of a city that has ended homelessness? I’ll wait.

  • Humanity with its constant issues gives us cause to improve our conditions and to assist those in need. Our fellow human may have needs delt by the hands of fate or of poor personal choices. Because we all live a life on such a planet, this inevitably must be addressed.

    Words from a very wise man:
    …You will always have the poor with you so you may minister to them at anytime it seems good to you…

    To the Roman judge he said: “As you judge men, remember that you yourself will also some day come to judgment before the bar of the Rulers of a universe. … Judge as you would be judged under similar circumstances, thus being guided by the spirit of the law as well as by its letter.

    They who would receive mercy must show mercy; judge not that you be not judged. With the spirit with which you judge others you also shall be judged.

    Judge not the soul nor evaluate its destiny by the standard of a single unfortunate human episode.

  • The supporters of this temporary massive shelter better go to the town hall meeting tomorrow Thursday starting 5pm in the Marsten theater to state their opinion for it. City Democrats are sharpening their knives agianst it. They are using the same complaint the neighborhoods used about spreading the homeless through-out the city. Democrats’ complaints are concerned about the baseball fields, which aren’t even used in winter.

    *And I still don’t like government funding be used to fund homeless shelters. When governnent cares for homeless and destitute, it makes it too much like a business, and all that counts is increasing more homeless for it, so some people can put in their 8 hour day.

  • If my opinionated opinion counted for anything, I’d say show compassion for those living on the streets and not burden those shelters being successful. Recognize while you are fighting a losing battle to decline homeless and addiction, the children aren’t receiving what they need and many will soon join the homeless and addicted populations, escalating the problem exasperating resources.

  • Seems like a good plan. Execution obviously key.

  • Seems this effort is at least moving closer to something effective. Simply providing shelter is only treating a very surface symptom and every incident of homelessness is rooted in something else with a high incidence of mental health issues and addiction. Hence the focus on transition, using services that could lead one toward a healthier and productive life, seems far more proactive. A step in the right direction anyway.

  • Missing in the details. 15 million dollar price tag. Which of course will be way under budgeted.

  • I’m all for compassion for the people temporarily experiencing homelessness, but when we talk about *the homeless* – the people content to live in tents when they can, who avoid institutional housing because reasons, who are content with and even relish the lifestyle – you gotta keep them out of the parks and residential areas.

    I commute on bike every day, and on East Chester, it’s so bad it’s almost unworkable. Dodging the staggering homeless, enduring heckling from the homeless, I’ve seen man and woman laying with each other literally *on* the trail, broken glass, empty bottles in the creek. The trail and the forest floor are littered with the flotsam and jetsam of encampments. Smoke from campfires is frequently lying on the trail by the ball fields – really fun to be running or biking through. Two days ago there was a bike lying half-submerged in the creek next to a homeless camp. Friends that live down the trail (Valley of the Moon/Spenard/West Chester) complain about dodging human crap on the trail system in addition to the aforementioned. We’re cutting down trees in the park to try and push the encampments back off the trail, which seems like the most misguided and off-target solution I can imagine.

    It’s an ecological disaster and a foolish, frivolous disregard for the preservation of some of Anchorage’s better assets (trails and good SFH neighborhoods). It’s more incentive for residents to avoid these places if they have to worry about their kids or even themselves being heckled, potentially accosted or even just witnessing drunken gatherings. I’ve lived in midtown in several neighborhoods for over twenty years and while we’ve always had homeless camps in the woods, to my recollection it’s never been condoned, tolerated, and enabled by policy like it is now.

    And why is this? You located services right on the greenbelt – Sullivan Arena. Where the services are, those that lurk on the edges of those services will congregate, as they did at Beans downtown. Either to be near others socially or because they have services close at hand should they need them. It was predictable, it’s why we oppose locating services at Golden Lion and AK Club. We know what happens, we can see it every day.

    So I’m fully in support of shutting down the homeless services by the greenbelt. Moving them to the hospitals? Probably better, but woe to University Lake and Campbell Park.

    I really liked some of Bill Evans’ ideas about having city storage/impound space for belongings as a way to enable day-of clearing of homeless camps. If having shelter space is also a requisite, then by all means build it. But it’s foolish to burn the capital (sometimes literally) of good quality neighborhoods in Anchorage by herding the lifestyle homeless into them. You’ll not solve the problem with the lifestyle homeless, and you’ll lose the hard-fought quality of life benefits in those neighborhoods.

    It seems like the Democrats in this town treat the homeless like pollution – the best solution for which is reputed to be dilution. They seem to think that betterment of lifestyle will happen through osmosis. That if they disperse the homeless into established, quality midtown neighborhoods and line our trails with them, somehow amidst the property crime, break-in attempts, litter, and confrontation, the productive residents of those neighborhoods won’t take flight and the homeless will improve their position in life. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

  • The transition center may be a good opportunity for collaboration between the Mayor-elect and the new CEO of Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium since transition center customers are mostly Alaska Natives.
    The transition center could also be a great opportunity for epic election fraud.
    The center’s physical address can be used to register brand-new voters, help them vote, help them sign their names, collect their ballots.
    The center could even be a designated drop-box location!
    Do we believe, just because the last election’s over, that everything the Bronson team challenged and MRAK readers reported won’t happen again?
    Seems reasonable to ask what election-integrity safeguards, if any, Anchorage’s Mayor-elect included in the transition center project.

  • Seems like a good plan, hopefully it works. Having an alternative shelter makes enforcement of illegal encampments possible. Other communities remove the camps leave a note that their belongings can be found at the provided shelter. Also lockers and centralized services have been found effective.

  • I think this could help some who actually want the help to get back on their feet, but it will also be abused by the ones who choose that life style of drugs, habits, and a free hand out, to never have a reason to change. Unfortunately there are people out there that choose to be a burden, they choose to work their butt off thieving, but they won’t lift a finger at a real job, and they will abuse and use whatever system is in place.

  • “This location is strategically located near medical service providers (both Providence and Alaska Native Medical Center) as well as law enforcement,” Bronson said.

    And (unsaid) Anchorage PD, Alaska State Troopers and Alaska Psychiatric Institute

  • This addresses the “compassion” side of the homeless problem. Now what about the “corrective” side? In case people have forgot, it’s illegal to camp on public land, to defecate in public, to throw liquor bottles in the creek, to steal bicycles and to litter.

    I’m all for providing a safety net for people who truly are one bad decision or one accident removed from a productive life.

    But I’m tired of that safety net being a hammock for derelicts. I’m tired of cleaning up their trash and taking the long way on my bike to avoid being punched in the face. I used to bike my family to the 4th of July fireworks along Chester Creek trail, now you’d have to be a fool to try that.

    Where are the arrests? Where are the teeth in the law? Who gave the order to look the other way? Yay for compassion, but let’s have some correction too.

  • “Collect data on individuals living in encampments…” Data collection is one of the main reasons there’s so many homeless. In my earlier construction years I would go around applying for jobs. “Your name?” “Manuel.” “Manuel what?” “Manuel Labor.” “Well Manuel, we’re too big to get away with undocumented labor, so you will have to fill out a W-2.” “OK, but anything more than that and I’m outta here.”
    I hated paperwork with a passion. My habit and practice was to never keep any records of anything. If I couldn’t remember a particular detail, I couldn’t give it to a prospective employer. I have only a handful of even personal keepsakes, dating beyond 5 or 6 years ago. There’s a medical term for it, but since I haven’t kept that record, I can’t recall what it is.
    There are “hoarders” and “Anti-hoarders”. Tools are about the only thing I keep for any length of time, but as soon as they start becoming “ratty” I buy new ones. Now I can’t work hardly at all, so they’re gathering dust.

  • Why are we ignoring vagrancy laws? If you don’t like them, repeal them, but since they are the law, and one presumes our officers take an oath to uphold the law, that the vagrants would be fined, and then, upon the accrual of more fines or more violations, ultimately jailed and then, judged to be mentally fit or in need of substance abuse counseling, both of which could be administered at that time.

    Just like jumping out of a plane without a parachute has a consequence and thus convinced more new people who jump out of planes to have a prachute, making vagrancy miserable and having consequences will in fact, convince more new potential vagrants, crazy, high, or not, that vagrancy is a bad idea. Yes there will still be vagrants..but there will be LESS. What the current policy of ignoring the law has lead to, is MORE. This is MATH. We can mitigate but we cannot cure mental illness. We can only help those who want help with substance abuse. We should be able to do the math and we should all want less vagrancy.

    Enforce the law, or repeal it. Become like Seattle or Portland-or don’t.

  • Too bad the muni doesn’t hold the people that work hard every day in private industry in as high regard as they do people that choose to live off the efforts of those hard working people.

  • My father got hurt in a logging accident so he couldn’t work a regular job for a couple years. We would go to Hood River and pick apples. I met a lot of “homeless” families there. They all seemed to have some sort of handicap … alcohol, socially inept, poor English, illiterate, whatever.
    Fruit tramping, picking beans, and other odd jobs was about the only work they could get. Even so, they, and their whole families made some sort of a living. It was a Gypsy lifestyle, but it worked for them. They weren’t undocumented immigrants. They were citizens, mostly white. “Backwoods people” would be an apt description.
    Alaska doesn’t have hardly any of that kind of work available. What farms we do have hire pickers, but not enough work to go around, and once that short season is over, there’s no place they can afford to migrate to for more work.
    A lot of Alaskan’s are homeless simply because they’re square pegs that don’t “fit” into round holes. Too many round hole jobs in Alaska, and not enough odd jobs.

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