Assembly to vote on city purchase of 4 properties to provide homelessness resources

Workers sort and prepare food at Bean’s Cafe, one of the four proposed properties for city purchase. (Kavitha George/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage Assembly is expected to decide Tuesday whether to move forward with a plan to purchase four properties to turn into treatment and homelessness resource facilities. The properties, located in Downtown, Midtown and Spenard will help to distribute social services to more parts of the city. 

Director of Economic and Community Development Chris Schutte said the plan came in part from an assembly directive to make social services more accessible. 

“As a city we have historically focused social service activities into one part of town. And we recognize that that has had a disproportionate effect on just that one part of town. So let’s talk about how we move social service facilities to all parts of town.”

The four properties include the Midtown Alaska Club, America Best Value Inn & Suites in Spenard, the Best Western Golden Lion located in Midtown and Bean’s Cafe. The locations would encompass a number of services, from behavioral health and addiction treatment, to life skills counseling to transitional housing. 

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Chief of Staff for the Berkowitz Administration Jason Bockenstedt said it’s important to go beyond providing emergency shelter, as the city has been doing, and instead to supply resources every step of the way as people get back on their feet into more stable housing.

“What we’re ultimately working to do is get individuals out of the shelter situation entirely,” he said.

Communities around the proposed locations have expressed concern about introducing homelessness resource facilities to their neighborhoods. One community meeting notice from the Geneva Woods neighborhood near the Best Western Golden Lion listed concerns like increased crime and lowered property values. 

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Schutte said impacts of not dealing with the issue are worse than any perceived downsides of providing social services in their neighborhood.

“We’re feeling the impact [of homelessness] on a daily basis,” he said. “Neighborhoods that are worried about feeling an impact from us taking proactive measures to address homelessness… I hate to break it to them, but they’re going to feel the impacts if we do nothing. And I would argue that those impacts, if we do nothing, are much greater and much longer lasting.”

Jasmine Boyle, the executive director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness said treatment, housing and support facilities don’t have to be a blight in the neighborhood.

“It is absolutely, 100 percent feasible to have shelters that do not have a negative impact on the community,” she said, adding, “We have to fund them right, we have to design them right, we have to operate them right.”

Boyle said Clare House, a shelter for women and children in Spenard, is a good example of that.

“I hear no concerns from the community about the operations of Clare House, about the clients at Clare house, because they integrated it well into that neighborhood.”

Tuesday’s vote would approve $22.5 million for the purchase, a combination of federal CARES Act funding and proceeds from the 2019 sale of Municipal Light & Power to Chugach Electric. Schutte said the total cost of purchasing and renovating the properties would be close to the $22.5 million allotment. Annual operating costs of all four facilities are estimated at $7 million. 

Corrections: This story originally stated that the four properties would provide resources for people experiencing homelessness. If the plan moves forward, the Best Western Golden Lion would offer drug and alcohol misuse treatment for all residents, not just those experiencing homelessness.

The story also stated that the $22.5 million allotment would come from federal CARES Act funding alone. In fact, it would be a combination of CARES Act funding and proceeds from the ML&P sale to Chugach Electric.