Memo: Anchorage health chief warns that licensing homeless shelters could mean more will be unsheltered in Anchorage


Heather Harris, the director of the Anchorage Health Department, says the proposed ordinance that would require homeless shelters to be licensed by the municipality comes with a number of risks that need to be addressed first.

In a memo to Assemblywoman Meg Zaletel and the acting mayor’s chief of staff, Harris warned about several of the unintended consequences of requiring licenses for nonprofit shelter operators, including:

Provider burden: Although it may not be the intent of the ordinance, licensing may burden shelter providers with additional costs, including employee costs, Harris said.

Timeline and costs of process: Harris pointed out that regulatory compliance such as background checks will increase the costs of running a shelter, and such background checks can take a lot of time, which can additionally burden the shelter operators, who are not generally operating with a lot of excess staff or funds.

“Has the Assembly investigated costs shouldered by providers to go through the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) process?” Harris asked. “Are the insurance requirements in alignment with threshold norms, or will this licensing process increase costs?

“If there are costs on either side, what level of risk are we asking providers to take and are they going to be willing to take those risks to provide a public service?” she asked in her memo.

Unintentional decrease in shelter system capacity: “… space limitations and the burdensome nature of these regulations could minimize the amount of people experiencing homelessness served,” Harris wrote.

Fiscal risk: “Compared to other business ventures, like alcohol and marijuana distributors, who stand to make a significant profit at the end of their licensing process, shelter providers are not in a profit-seeking structure. The initial capital investment has a financial benefit once achieving licensing that bears a cost/benefit analysis. This may not be true for future providers.”

“Some providers currently providing services (some outside of their core service) may decide to stop delivering services. In October 2020, at least two providers publicly stated that they would stop sheltering this population if required to comply,” Harris wrote.

While the municipality is working to get homeless out of the Sullivan Arena, “increasing the risk of decreasing the shelter system capacity is a significant concern,” Harris added.

Background checks: In addition to potentially being slow and/or fiscally burdensome, the ordinance could threaten removing the ladder for employment opportunities that many providers allow for in having previous participants become staff. This means as people become more functional, they can be paid to take on duties in the shelter, and this provides them with structure, work experience, and a sense of purpose, all important to finding other work in the future. Requiring a background check for client-to-staff members would create a barrier to overcoming homelessness.

“Are the background check requirements for all facilities and all clients? Clarification about the motivation for background checks could be helpful. Moreover, weighing out that motivation to the benefits of staff with lived experience (who may be barred from employment by currently drafted license requirements) would be important,” Harris noted.

Human capital: Harris said that two or three municipal staff will be required to start a shelter licensing program and maintain it over time. She said that the initial investment to establish processes at the municipality and the workflow would be substantial.

“Therefore, there needs to be at least a supervisor and a coordinator to do this work, though two coordinators would be more realistic,” she wrote. She added that the relationships required to be an effective compliance officer are time intensive and that providers need to trust that the compliance officer understands them and their services to actively work with them on improvement plans as needed.

“When there are problems, they are incredibly time-intensive, be that inspection, re-inspection, improvement planning, investigations, revocation processes, etc.,” she wrote.

Harris on April 21, 2021 also made a formal request for an economic impact summary as it relates to the added work burden at the municipality.

Harris also noted that public hearings about homeless shelters are “extremely volatile” and “politicized.” Rather than the Anchorage Assembly having public hearings about possible licensing of shelters in Anchorage, she recommended that “making hearings of this nature public, rather than running it through the Administrative Hearing Office, potentially provides a platform for ridicule and rancor. It would be recommended to explore alternative options.”

Read: Targeting faith-based shelters, Assembly plans to require a license to operate

An ordinance to require licenses for shelter providers is being discussed by the Anchorage Assembly, and those providing shelters, such as faith-based groups, are concerned that the regulations that follow the ordinance will be burdensome and are intended to put them out of service.

The ordinance has been the subject of two town hall meetings this week and will be on the Tuesday agenda of the Anchorage Assembly, whose meetings start at 5 pm at the Loussac Library ground floor Assembly Chambers.


  1. So, in other words, licensing shelters is bad because it will slow down the destruction of the suburbs, single family homes, and the family unit.
    Were you expecting something different from a leftist? At least this “argument” is almost well thought out. Almost.

  2. Sooooo, anything not sanctioned and funded by the taxpayer becomes burdened with more cost and regulations. I suggest to get the city out of the homeless business (except for jail) and: 1. make the homeless unwelcome; 2. allow those of charity to provide service to those who will accept the terms. Mental illness and life dysfunction are sad situations, but those who do not accept help with a desire to improve themselves sometimes sadly cannot be helped. That is an unfortunate fact of life and money is better spent on those willing to reform and return to civility.

  3. Ah yes. Licensing. This is something you often get in order to not be crosswise with the law. Fishing license. Driver’s license. Don’t get one, get a fine or worse. Get one, now you avoid that hassle. But hassle-avoidance comes with a price: jurisdiction.
    Some of these “noble” folks who want shelter licensing will say it is for safety, the children, accountability, and other nice words. But for some, they want it for jurisdiction.
    And they will get it. When you ask permission to do something (licensing), you have just granted jurisdiction to the one granting you the permission to proceed in the form of a license.
    Even a Marriage License registered with the State grants jurisdiction to a third party in your perceived two-party contract.
    Choose well what licenses to obtain or lobby for.

  4. It’s all about the money, three new muni jobs yay.
    Next the muni will shut down, these wonderful people that run these programs.
    Then tax you, Anchorage, to run these facilities

  5. The Leftists aren’t interested in solving homelessness or helping the homeless, they seek to hire Leftists who will vote for Leftists, who will hire more Leftists. The worse things get the happier the Leftists are.

  6. The assembly doesn’t have enough members with the brains to pour piss out of a boot with the instructions on the heel is the real problem here. They can’t look at logical progression and unintended consequences of their stupid decisions because they are blinded by their socialist agenda.

  7. There are never any suggestions for a work camp, or day labor, in exchange for food and shelter, only free programs to enable those who are unable or unwilling to care for themselves. State Statutes Title 47, Chap 30, provides procedure for involuntary detention and treatment for those who are not capable to care for themselves, and the criminal code provides procedure for involuntary detention for those who are capable but refuse.

  8. I’m with “Proud Alaskan” , just another way to increase the bureaucratic workforce. The assembly president will also make sure that only “democrats apply”.

  9. I’m with Dan Hanna. This local government looks for a problem to throw a poor solution at. How about the AO that puts homeless shelters near the intersection of Tudor and Old Seward. How compassionate is it that the Assemblage wants to form a new “Kill Zone” for future clients walking from the north attempting to get to the vacant Alaska Club building on the south side? A bit like the multi-gazillion dollar expansion of Abbott Road a couple of years ago: Create a larger expanse for moose to cross and then, ensure that there’s no lighting on the south side of the road thus rendering them nearly invisible. What’s not to like? Well, I guess the non-refundable earnest money that was so thoughtfully handed over for the AK Club and, hiring more government employees and, having the new, fancier homeless camps butting up against tax-paying neighborhoods and….

  10. This measure would protect residents and those that are willing to work ahead of those that do not wish to, as it should be. It means that the shelters would have to be done in a building that is zoned for that sort of thing, especially considering the problems near any hotel forced to take homeless people during the wuflu. Look at NY city and how that has worked for their parks. They normally hang out near where they sleep, which means if shelters are not zoned or regulated they can pop up next door. I have worked with and helped homeless people, even allowing one to stay with me because I was dumb. 90% of them do not want help, they want free stuff and to not live by any rules. This prevents people from turning vacant lots near where you live into tent cities, where violence, crime and other problems will originate. Seattle is a good example of this, they kept making things better and better for the homeless. Now they have a flood and have to constantly sweep tent cities because of the problems they create. I hate licensure, but this would classify them as a specific business, allow for safety inspections and the state does not have to collect a fee. Can it make things more expensive? Yes, but sometimes it makes sense and is in the best interest of the public.

  11. AK says that “the city” (the Municipality of Anchorage is legally classified as a borough, not a city, quit letting the news media falsely define your understanding of things) should not be in the homeless business “except for jail”. Um, the Municipality isn’t in the “jail business”, that’s a state responsibility. In the past, the correctional officers’ union has initiated turf battles with the Municipality over this very issue. Nitpicking aside, I see where you’re going with this. Advocacy of indiscriminately jailing people goes far in explaining why the runoff was so close, as Dunbar was able to gain support he was never capable of earning on his own. Thus far, everyone is deflecting on the question of who will actually pay for this. With courts, jails and probation offices all operated by the state, they could very well decide the Municipality is making the state pay for a local problem and balk at the notion. That’s precisely what AST did several times over the decades with respect to law enforcement patrols in Anchorage.
    As to the matter of work, there are many people involved in this issue who see employment as a path out of homelessness. There are many things to consider. Firstly, the issue of background checks and barrier crimes is hardly limited to this ordinance, rather it’s a constraining factor in general. When I volunteered at Brother Francis Shelter, I encountered quite a few people who desired to go back to work and reestablish themselves in the community. Those who were most determined to go back to work weren’t encouraged to do so locally, instead being pushed in the direction of cannery jobs. I’m guessing we can’t talk about that, since the prevailing narrative only talks about rural residents being dumped off in Anchorage and not the other way around. Other people in various programs elsewhere around town had it drilled into their head that because they wound up in this situation, the best they’ll ever do for themselves is to get a crummy job to pay for a crummy apartment and forget about trying to do any better with their lives. People with some sort of job skills and alcohol and/or drug problems are often exploited by employers with the promise of a slightly more secure situation than what they found on the streets or in the shelters. Given this climate, are we providing proper incentive for people to improve their lives? Many of these comments amount to advocating criminalizing those who make a choice to not participate in an economy that has nothing to offer them, in spite of court decisions which say you can’t do that.

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