Administration, Assembly say a compromise is possible on shelter plan

A purple fold-out sign with the words "Full Capacity". Behind it, a man in a tan jacket descends a ramp
The Emergency Mass Shelter at the Sullivan Arena on Sept. 22, 2020. The shelter has been sleeping about 400 people per night at a cost of nearly $1 million per month, which is paid for by FEMA. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage Assembly hasn’t yet come to an agreement with Mayor Dave Bronson about how to set up hundreds of shelter beds for homeless residents, but they say they’re making progress. 

Downtown Assembly member Chris Constant said he’s working with two other Assembly members and the Bronson administration to form a task force to look into boosting shelter capacity. Constant said they hope to make an announcement about the group on Friday.

Last week, the Assembly shot down the Bronson administration’s plan to build a massive, temporary homeless shelter in East Anchorage. The administration had pushed the new building as a cost-effective way to boost shelter capacity before winter. 

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Matt Shuckerow, a spokesperson for Bronson, wrote in an email that the administration is working with the Assembly on a “meaningful path forward.”

“Mayor Bronson has made it very clear that these discussions cannot conclude without a long-term solution to the persistent housing and homeless challenges in Anchorage,” he wrote.

The Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness predicted 465 people could be living on the streets this winter if they don’t find more shelter beds even with the Sullivan shelter staying open — though the number could be lower if COVID restrictions ease and shelters can expand to capacity.

Jasmine Boyle, director coalition, presented the estimates at an Assembly committee meeting on Wednesday. She said shelter providers are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines about distancing between beds at shelters and are looking to increase capacity to make up for the gap. 

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“We are hoping to not only identify who can increase capacity, but also if there are simple solutions, for example: Bunk beds, or a different type of dividers, or something that would allow a shelter provider with a moderate resource investment to expand,” she said. 

But experts cautioned the delta variant of COVID-19, which is more transmissible, could put a hold on any planned capacity increases. 

“The delta variant was kind of a left hook on top of that one-two punch where there was interest in expanding capacity. It’s created a pause on those efforts,” said Bob Doehl, director of development services for Anchorage. 

About 400 people are currently staying at the city’s emergency mass shelter at the Sullivan Arena each night. Its contract to operate ends Sept. 15, though Assembly members have signaled they are likely to extend it without another plan in place.

The city gets reimbursed for 100% of the costs of operating the shelter by FEMA until Sept. 30. After that, FEMA only reimburses 75% of the funding. The state of Alaska has promised to pay the remaining 25%. 

The city is currently spending about $3 million a month on sheltering people who are homeless, including the Sullivan and hotel rooms.