Anchorage officials to use ice arena for emergency shelter

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage is the preferred location for an additional shelter to house many of the city’s homeless as the COVID-19 virus spreads, officials said.

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s chief of staff said Saturday that emergency planners identified the indoor ice arena as the best option to house community members who are homeless, The Anchorage Daily News reported.

Anchorage is home to an estimated 1,100 people who live on the streets or in greenbelts, parks and shelters. They often have weakened immune systems and are considered vulnerable to COVID-19, officials said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. The world’s coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 150,000 people and killed over 5,700.

Anchorage officials considered using apartments, vacant office buildings, recreation centers, hotels, modular trailers, and other options before choosing the arena as the best option for housing homeless people as the city contends with the virus outbreak.

The city-owned arena will allow up to 200 people to sleep at least 3 feet (0.9 meters) apart as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for homeless shelters.

Officials are working out plans for security, food and transportation, but they expect to have everything in place within days, mayoral Chief of Staff Jason Bockenstedt said.

“We’re going to move as quickly as possible,” Bockenstedt said.

The use of the ice arena as an alternative location should relieve some of the pressure on facilities including Brother Francis Shelter, the city’s largest emergency shelter for the homeless with a maximum capacity of 240.

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