Anchorage working group suggests 30 potential homeless shelter sites for winter

A white man speaks into a microphone and gesturees. Another man in the background looks on
Former Trump administration “homelessness czar” Robert Marbut Jr. speaks at a public meeting of the facilitated discussion group between the Anchorage Assembly and mayor’s administration on Aug. 25, 2021 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Members of the Anchorage Assembly and mayoral administration unveiled 30 locations as potential shelter sites as part of their ongoing effort to find more beds for the winter.

A working group of three Assembly members and three officials with Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration presented the draft list at a Wednesday meeting.

The list includes buildings that could be purchased, like the old Sam’s Club in East Anchorage, and the Dena’ina Center downtown. It also includes vacant lots where a shelter could be built from scratch, like a plot on the west end of the airport near Point Woronzof. 

Read the full draft list of potential winter shelter sites.

Several previously-proposed options are still being considered, like the police impound lot on the corner of Tudor and Elmore roads, which the Bronson administration proposed as a site for a large shelter in July. The Assembly shot down that plan due, in part, to concerns about the costs. The Assembly has been pushing for multiple smaller, disbursed shelters that sleep fewer than 150 people.

The Sullivan Arena is currently serving as the city’s emergency mass shelter, sleeping about 400 people each night. If the working group of Assembly and city officials doesn’t find another option quickly, the Sullivan Arena will likely stay open, but it’s not big enough for the winter. Jasmine Boyle, director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, estimated another 200 people will need a shelter bed this winter, even if the Sullivan Arena stays open. 

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Boyle told meeting participants on Wednesday that regardless of the outcome, the working group represented progress in Anchorage’s approach to homelessness. 

“Three years ago the conversation in the winter was: Should we utilize city buses to allow people to sleep upright while the buses are plugged in when it’s lower than 10 degrees to keep them warm?” she said. “The fact that that isn’t even on the table as an option is a sign of progress.”

The group says it will ask for $200,000 from the Assembly to do a rough cost estimate of each proposed site. While more options could be added, the group said, it’s trying to narrow down its current list of 30 sites at a work session this weekend. 

It’s also trying to narrow down a ranking list for how to assess the remaining sites to determine the importance of things like how close the shelter is to a bus route and whether it has space outside for recreation. 

RELATED: The Anchorage Assembly voted down Bronson’s pick for lead librarian, then he appointed her chief of staff

The working group is also creating a long-term shelter plan, but is hoping to come to a resolution on a winter plan by the end of the month. 

Both sides of the group praised each other’s efforts at the meeting, but it’s not clear whether either side is ready to compromise on their earlier demands.

Two industry representatives involved with building large shelters flew into Anchorage from Outside and attended the meeting, including Jim Avery, the vice president of Sprung Structures — the manufacturer of the shelter proposed in July by Bronson’s team. 

Robert Marbut Jr., a controversial former Trump administration official who was hired as a consultant for the Bronson administration, told Assembly members on Wednesday that a 450-person shelter is a “sweet spot” for economically serving clients. But, he said, he had also worked on much smaller projects depending on the needs of the city. 

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