Six years later, a look back at the Berkowitz transition team's ambitious homeless plan - Must Read Alaska
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Wednesday, October 20, 2021
HomePoliticsSix years later, a look back at the Berkowitz transition team’s ambitious homeless plan

Six years later, a look back at the Berkowitz transition team’s ambitious homeless plan

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Six years ago, the incoming administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz published an ambitious document detailing the mayor’s plans for public safety, homelessness, and the economy.

Read the Berkowitz Transition Report at this link:

Homelessness was such a priority of the Berkowitz Administration but his promises were unfulfilled. As Dave Bronson becomes mayor, the Berkowitz transition report is an informative read. Bronson will be sworn in on July 1 and has begun his transition team process.

The first priority of the Berkowitz homelessness plan was to improve transportation and access for the homeless. The deliverables were a complete needs assessment, free and reduced bus passes, lower prices for youth, and to focus on the safety and comfortability of transportation.

The second priority was to hire a homeless coordinator. That person came from the transition team itself — Nancy Burke — who was hired in August of 2015. After coordinating homeless programs for six years, Burke moved on in March, and is now special assistant to the president and CEO at United Way for housing and Covid-19 response. But while working for Berkowitz, she reported directly to the mayor. Her duties included looking at the money that is being spent on homelessness, including costs of police, hospital, jail, and coordinating with existing programs to ensure that affordable housing is safe and comfortable.

“We can make better use of our resources by coordinating our response to homelessness,” Berkowitz said at the time, while criticizing former Mayor Dan Sullivan for eliminating the homeless coordinator position in 2012, when the budget was tight. “Those are what I’d consider penny-wise and pound foolish cuts,” he told reporters.

The mayor also said in 2015 that if the State of Alaska didn’t expand Medicaid, Anchorage would do so on a local level. Gov. Bill Walker expanded Medicaid to cover more people that year, relieving Berkowitz of that battle.

A third priority was housing. The deliverable was to create a committee from Planning and Zoning to make recommendations for zoning changes. The rest of the deliverables were overflowing with bureaucratese that is not easily quantifiable:

•  Coordinate reports and groups that are working on this issue, continue work with transition teams

•  Affordable housing – mechanisms for subsidies, non-cash assets

•  Minimize co-location of low-income projects in low income neighborhoods

•  Creative solutions to encourage landlords to have affordable housing

A fourth priority was to train all municipal employees on Green Dot Bystander intervention techniques, which was a 90-minute training for all staff.

Berkowitz’ fifth priority was to keep “safe harbor” buildings in use. The deliverables were to leverage money to support the program, advocate increase public awareness about the importance of the program and work with RuralCAP.

Read about safe harbor buildings at this link.

By six months into his administration, Mayor Berkowitz promised he would have a job training program up and running to address homelessness. In his transition report, he said he’d have youth doing the watering of municipal gardens, and develop public/private partnerships to provide job trainings. He promised he would have micro loans and investments in small businesses of people who are homeless. He promised to “support development of meaningful use of time programs,” and “find create end to backlog of public assistance programs.

Also at six months, Berkowitz said his administration would address the “societal perspective on homelessness.” He would work on public awareness and “increase humanity toward people experiencing homelessness.”

He would also “maximize existing potential detox and substance abuse treatment,” and fund existing vacant beds.

By the six-month mark, Berkowitz said he would have found the resources to devote to homelessness programs, reduce taxes or give tax credits to landlords who rent to people with housing vouchers, increase the supply of land and buildings for permanent supported housing.

By 2019, Year Four of the Berkowitz era, there were an estimated 1,100 people who were known to be homeless in Anchorage, and the city was spending tens of millions of dollars every year on the problem. The number had not really budged in his years at the helm, even with the help of the homeless coordinator.

Berkowitz’ term in office ended abruptly on Oct. 23 2020, after a salacious episode with a local reporter became the news.

But before he left office, he had worked to space people out in homeless shelters to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and in doing so had commandeered the Sullivan, Ben Boeke and Dempsey-Anderson Arenas. The Sullivan is still a shelter for about 400 people, and those people now become Mayor-Elect Dave Bronson’s concern as he and his team enter the transition process and try to figure out the right path to deal with Anchorage’s toughest nut to crack: Homelessness.

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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

  • After what this guy did to his family he should be thankful HE isn’t homeless.

  • Berserkowitz’ legacy:

    Plastic bag ban
    Forcing transgenderism
    Higher taxes
    Declining schools
    Rising crime rates
    Totalitarian unconstitutional Covid restrictions
    Difficulty in keeping his pants on

  • The liberal mayor and his cronies on the assembly have effectively incentivized homelessness. Giving people free stuff is a sure fire way to make sure they never rehabilitate, additionally allowing them to spend their panhandling money on drugs alcohol and cigs since the food bed and cellphone/internet are paid for by the muni. I didn’t go to Harvard like berkasplitz did, but I can see a hole on a boat. Widbey, Greg R, harborguy…..?

  • Spendowitz’ homeless plan worked out just like he intended. He increased the number of homeless individuals dependant upon government assistance at an exponential rate, while expanding the homeless service industrial complex at an even faster rate, therefore perpetuating the problem by continuing to create a dependant class of individuals to grow government programs even bigger.
    Any attempt by Mayor Bronson to scale back spending will be construed as “draconian”, “heartless”, “mean spirited”, etc. etc. by the liberals, democrats and news media. I’m sure it won’t be long before they all find some reason to start a recall campaign for some made reasons as well.

  • Call it 1200 homeless. Contract for a number of rooming houses, rent being 500 bucks allowed, per month. That would be 6.0 million per year.
    I live in a rooming house, shared bathrooms and kitchens, paying 600 per month. Building occupancy seems to be averaging around 75%. which effects a reduction in the owners annual revenue. A guaranteed 500 per month would actually be an increase.
    Why should some chronic homeless get to live in buildings with overhead that brings the rent equivalent to several thousand per month, tens of millions per year?
    Seems that the “tens of millions” per year are being sucked up by others than the homeless.
    It’s become an industry. How many “non-profits” are becoming wealthy off of the homeless issue?

  • I am pleased many people who were homeless did find homes finally. Their lives can be so exhausting. So giving credit where due Mayor Berkowitz did bring funds in for the really difficult cases. I thank him for that. Also, he didn’t plan the respiratory ailments. I’m glad Anchorage is not leaning communist at this time. The US Constitution is permanent and guaranteed.

  • Close the liquor stores and the homeless will leave. Probably to the nearest liquor store that is open and has woods nearby.

  • Berkowitz’ entire tenure as mayor was a lesson in futility……..for all of Anchorage. Berkowitz didn’t learn a damn thing. Bronson needs to clean house and put new people in charge under him. It’s the only way to advance and move along from this ugly era of our city.

  • Agree Daniel
    Bye Bye Berkowitz

  • I have to wonder who’s pockets are full of the millions of dollars wasted on this crap.

  • On Monday a young Alaskan woman was doing heroin midday in the Chucky Cheese parking lot. Just sitting in a parking space high as a kite. What’s that restaurant’s slogan? Where a kid can be a kid? Spendowitz’s legacy in action.

  • Others may be able to verify this… I heard that former Mayor Mark Begich purchased a vacant building, signed a sweetheart deal with the muni and/or state, and is now housing the homeless in it. True? If so, it’s similar to what came out of Hillary’s mouth: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

  • The problem is not “homelessness.” The problem is alcoholism and drug abuse. Compound that with the attendant behaviors like theft, vagrancy, assault, panhandling, shoplifting, and littering and what appears is nothing less than condoning illegality writ large. These are people who break our laws and we continue to pay for them to get housing, food, medical care, but certainly not jail time. Enough already. Call it what it is. Hold people accountable for their own behavior and quit soaking the responsible citizens to benefit them.

  • So, doing exactly what San Fran, Seattle, Portland, and LA did, and expecting different results did not pan out?

  • Berkowitz was destroying Anchorage in many ways. How much money was involved and what was the agenda when he met with Mayor Bloomberg here in 2017?

  • AKNOMAL, anything which is subsidized will continue and expand. While the numbers seem to point to homelessness staying about the same, the homeless industry has grown exponentially with politically connected ‘non-profits’ (often with six figure salary CEOs) raking in dollars with apparently no benefit to either the destitute or the citizens of Anchorage. Most of these people choose dysfunction as a way of life. Many organizations out there have provided services without government subsidy and did a better job. Hopefully the new mayor will immediately wean everyone in this lucrative ‘industry’. Enabling homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction helps no one, either the taxpayer or the victim, only the profiteering establishment. But the progressives will surely squeal like fresh barrow hogs at any hint of cuts.

  • @Mongo Or develop a laissez faire approach toward liquor stores and close the Community Service Patrol. If the goal is fewer street drunks it would be an effective program.
    .
    On a related note congrats to Amy Winehouse. Next month marks 10 years drug free.

  • Those homeless who have found homes are holed up in local hotels at the expense of the city. Make no mistake, they are still out there and when the tourists come back or the money gets re-appropriated, they will all be out on the streets again. Haven’t you noticed the big party starting on street corners along Northern Lights and Benson Blvds?

  • Meanwhile the current assembly is giving tons of money to their friends and cronies instead of helping the homeless. The Black Caucus, the Alphabet people. Why do they get this money and not the taxpayers? Where is the property tax relief? Where is the help for all of the “non-essential” workers who had to stay home and not get a paycheck?

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