Sullivan Arena homeless shelter gets third new leader in 3 months

A chain link fence in front of a large beige building
A chain link fence was set up on part of the perimeter of the Sullivan Arena on Nov. 17, 2021 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska’s largest homeless shelter has its third new manager in three months. 

Cesar Ramirez De La Cruz said he took over the lead of the shelter from Shawn Hays in early December after serving as assistant manager for about a month. 

a hispanic man standing for the camera in front of a tree with a blue button up shirt
Cesar Ramirez De La Cruz is the new Sullivan Shelter manager for 99 Plus 1 (Photo courtesy Cesar Ramirez De La Cruz)

Hays had started as shelter director on Nov. 9. It’s unclear when her last day was, but De La Cruz said he accepted the position on Dec. 4. Hays’ departure wasn’t announced by the Anchorage Health Department, which oversees contracts for operating the city’s shelters.

Hays has not responded to requests for comment on when and why she left. The Anchorage Health Department’s spokesperson, Robert McNeily, has also not responded to questions.

Before Hays, Zach Zears served as director of the Sullivan shelter for about two and a half months, starting when 99 Plus 1 took over the shelter in mid-September from Bean’s Cafe.

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The turnover in leadership at the shelter comes amid a string of resignations and firings among people working on homelessness in the city, which is pushing to move hundreds of people out of the Sullivan Arena and the city’s other hotel shelters set up during the pandemic.

The Assembly recently set aside $6 million to buy two hotels and start construction on a large shelter in East Anchorage as part of a compromise plan with Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration. In total, the plan would set up shelter for more than 800 people.  

In a phone interview Thursday, De La Cruz said he feels ready to run the Sullivan shelter, where more than 400 people have been sleeping each night. He said he worked at a shelter in Nebraska from 2013 to 2020 and at a residential treatment center in Ohio for nine months starting in 2020. He moved to Alaska earlier this year, and also worked as an administrator for 99 Plus 1 at the Sullivan collecting and reporting data.

“I don’t feel stressed out,” he said. “I have an amazing team, I have great support, I feel prepared. And it’s nothing really different from what I was doing back in Omaha running a shelter.”

The city can renew its contract with 99 Plus 1 every two months. The contract is up for renewal at the end of December.

Correction: Cesar Ramirez De La Cruz has worked in a residential treatment center in Ohio, not a shelter.

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Lex Treinen covers culture, homelessness, politics and corrections for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at ltreinen@alaskapublic.org.

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