By MAYOR DAVE BRONSON, ASSEMBLYMAN FELIX RIVERA, FORMER ASSEMBLYMAN JOHN WEDDLETON
This week, the Anchorage Assembly will consider plans to construct a homelessness navigation and prevention center on the Anchorage Police Department campus near Tudor and Elmore roads. After many months of collaborative work and constant refinement through public input, we believe that our bipartisan proposal is sound, humane, and represents the most significant opportunity we’ve had in decades to turn the tide on homelessness.
We urge a yes vote on our resolution funding construction of the navigation center.
The navigation center will serve as a point of entry to treatment programs, specialized shelters, and permanent supportive housing all across Anchorage. In the same way that emergency rooms triage and transfer patients to specialized care, the navigation center will be a welcoming facility, staffed by competent navigators whose job is to connect clients to income, benefits, healthcare, and housing.
A key element of any navigation center is a “housing first,” low-barrier approach that prioritizes housing and deprioritizes admission requirements. This means accepting family configurations that traditionally struggle to gain access to shelters – single adults, couples, elders with a caretaker – and working to quickly place them into permanent housing. Only when this most basic human need is met are clients able to meaningfully engage with wrap-around services and address the root cause of their homelessness.
Earlier this week, we had another opportunity to share our plan with the public, and by Thursday’s Assembly meeting the administration will have provided nearly 300 pages of documentation to policymakers and the public. While some cost escalation due to inflation is to be expected in today’s economy, the building is currently priced at $9 million. Preliminary estimates for operating costs are $5 million per year. To put this amount into perspective, current municipality-run shelter operations cost more than $6 million each month. Even with inflation, the navigation center will unequivocally be a cost saver.
The steel-membrane structure, complete with skylights and windows, will be a tremendous leap forward over the ill-suited Sullivan Arena. While the 200-bed sheltering capacity of the navigation center will be temporary, the facility will be permanent – providing homelessness prevention services and meeting other community needs for many years to come. For those worried about winter conditions, rest assured that Sprung structures are already in use on the North Slope, Siberia, and even the Andes Mountains.
None of this would’ve been possible without your feedback. The facility will be designed for 200 clients, and emergency capacity will only be activated in the event of a true crisis. We’ve brought in the Anchorage Fire Department to develop fire mitigation plans, and we will continue to work with our safety partners to ensure pedestrian safety.
While we recognize that the location will always be a point of discussion, it’s worth remembering that the current site was selected after a review of over 70 locations around town. In truth, every one of us lives near a homeless shelter. The shelters are on our trails, in our parks, and behind our businesses. It’s up to us to fix this, and we believe the selected location is the best site by a long shot.
As we move forward, it’s important to maintain perspective. The navigation center is just one part of a comprehensive transition plan from mass sheltering to sustainable operations. On Monday, we celebrated the opening of the Sockeye Inn which will soon provide 61 private rooms for the medically vulnerable. Last Thursday, the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness processed over 100 applications for permanent housing from clients at the Sullivan Arena, and we’re very close to securing an additional 120 rooms at the GuestHouse Inn for workforce and supportive housing.
Private entities are also hard at work bringing additional services online. Partnering with the municipality, the Salvation Army is on the verge of reopening its 68-bed substance misuse treatment facility on 48th Avenue. On Third Avenue, the Rasmuson Foundation, Weidner Apartment Homes, Bean’s Café, and Catholic Social Services are working together to open a navigation center as early as next year. These private service providers will continue to bear the lion’s share of homelessness efforts in Anchorage, and we’re tremendously grateful for their efforts.
There’s no denying that the challenge that lies ahead is enormous, but all of us believe that we’ve never been better positioned to make a real difference. Our coalition represents every political stripe and point of view – whether you’re after safer trails, a more vibrant economy, or you share our belief that we have a moral obligation to protect the vulnerable and marginalized, we welcome you to our cause.
We call on the full Assembly to join us with a yes vote on navigation center funding.
Dave Bronson is the mayor of Anchorage. Felix Rivera represents Midtown on the Anchorage Assembly and is the chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Housing and Homelessness. John Weddleton represented South Anchorage on the Anchorage Assembly.