The Anchorage Assembly is hosting two town hall meetings to hear from the public about two critical ordinances coming before the body on Thursday, June 8. One of the ordinances would have the effect of shutting down faith-based shelters, according to Ralph Nobrega of the Gospel Mission.
The town halls will be held on June 1 and June 3, from 6-9 p.m. at the Dena’ina Center in downtown Anchorage.
Proposed Ordinances to be discussed during the town halls:
AO 2021-54 Title 21 currently prohibits homeless shelters in all zoning districts, except for the PLI (public lands and institutions) district downtown. The ordinance change would allow shelters to be developed in B-3 (general business) districts, which are located along major streets to better provide access to public transportation and services for homeless persons. The shelters may back up against residential neighborhoods. This ordinance is sponsored by Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson.
AO 2021-55: This ordinance is aimed at shutting down shelters run by religious organizations, such as the women-only Hope Center in downtown Anchorage, which does not admit biological males.
Any organization that didn’t fall under Title 5, the equal rights ordinance that applies to some shelters, would be covered by the new shelter licensing ordinance. Although the proposed ordinance does not specify that shelters cannot run gender-specific operations, the ordinance will allow for future regulations that do specify that shelters cannot be gender-specific.
In addition, the ordinance mandates that shelters must not turn away clients because they are inebriated or high on drugs, but must instead provide them treatment.
Some faith-based shelters are not set up to do drug treatment, and thus the volunteers make judgment calls about who they think they can accommodate for the night.
Also under the proposed ordinance, volunteers, including youth who volunteer as scouts or church workers, must have background checks.
The Gospel Mission survives on donations alone. Nobrego, who has been with the organization for several years, says the ordinance could shut down the mission within seven days, and he plans to testify about the ordinance, which is sponsored by Assemblymembers Chris Constant, Meg Zaletel, and John Weddleton.
“We’ve been doing this for 50 years and have never taken a penny from the municipality, state, or federal government. We have 8,000 people who support us because we know what we do and how we do it. The last thing the city needs to do is to create a license for no real reason. This will be a detriment to the homeless because there will be fewer shelters available,” he said. “No one will start a shelter under this ordinance.”