City to stop using Ben Boeke as emergency mass shelter

The entrance to the Ben Boeke Ice Arena on Thursday, May 28. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage’s emergency homeless shelter at the Ben Boeke Ice Arena is set to be phased out on June 1. 

The announcement was made at the Anchorage Assembly’s Committee on Homelessness meeting last week. 

As of Thursday, Ben Boeke had just 61 clients staying there, with room for up to 240, according to the city’s dashboard. The facility was originally set up in late March in order to provide clients with the CDC recommended six feet of space between beds. 

“I think the community should be really proud,” said Lisa Sauder, Executive Director of Bean’s Cafe, which administered the facility. She said that the fact that Ben Boeke was no longer needed as a facility was a testament to the success of the facilities. 

Ben Boeke currently is used for couples, women and LGBTQ individuals experiencing homelessness. Throughout the day on June 1, they will move over to the Sullivan Arena, which previously housed just single men. But Sauder said that there would still be a physical separation between genders. 

Katlyn Sheehan, director of navigation services, said that there are also new services that will be provided for at the Sullivan beginning next week, including onsite medical care. 

“We have worked to hopefully be launching next week, a collaborative medical clinic that is going to be operating in the southwest box office and the kind of on-site care that we’re going to be able to provide for our clients in the gaps that they live in. It’s just, it’s really unheard of. It’s phenomenal,” she said. 

Sauder and Sheehan both praised the current emergency mass shelter set up, which they say allows service providers to offer a one-stop-shop for services in tents lined up outside the arenas. 

It’s still unclear how long the Sullivan will be used for an emergency shelter. Carolyn Hall, spokesperson for the mayor, wrote in an email that the contract for using the arena expires on July 31, but that the city anticipates that it will need to keep using it for a mass shelter beyond that time. Hall said the city is hoping that the Arena can return to its normal operations as soon as possible. 

“A phased schedule for reopening the Sullivan Arena is being determined. The phased reopening is dependent on Municipal mandates for large gatherings, building capacities, and food and beverage restrictions,” she wrote.

Both Ben Boeke and the Dempsey Anderson Ice Arena, which was previously used as a quarantine facility, will be shut and cleaned on June 1. 

“Both facilities, both Dempsey Anderson and Ben Boeke and 1 and 2 will go through a deep cleaning and sanitization process. The contractor who manages those facilities on behalf of the municipality is a national – actually international – facility management company that has access to some CDC approved sanitization tools and products,” said Chris Schutte, director the city’s economic and community development program with the city at the meeting.

Sauder said that no individuals staying at Sullivan or Ben Boeke had tested positive for the coronavirus.