Assembly narrowly approves $6.2M for new homeless shelter in East Anchorage

An aerial view of a parking lot next to some woods.
The area where the city plans to build a 29,000 square foot navigation center for homeless adults. Officials say the shelter, which will sit on the parking lot on the far (west) end of the Anchorage Police Department impound lot next to the old APD headquarters on Tudor and Elmore roads. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

After lengthy debate Tuesday night, the Anchorage Assembly narrowly approved putting roughly $6.2 million toward the construction of a navigation center and shelter to address the city’s homeless crisis. 

Six Assembly members voted in favor, and four were opposed. 

The new shelter and navigation center for services will be in East Anchorage. They’re a key part of the city’s plan to close the mass shelter set up at the Sullivan Arena at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials with Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration say they plan to stop using the arena as a shelter by the end of June. 

The proposal for the new shelter drew concerns from most Assembly members at Tuesday’s meeting and most public testimony was also in opposition to the funding. In the minutes ahead of the vote, Assembly member Felix Rivera urged support.

“What we have before us today, in my opinion, is the best possible plan that we could come up with considering the current set of circumstances that we have,” Rivera said. “Despite all of the unknowns, all the unanswered questions and frustrations, which I share.”

Also ahead of the vote, South Anchorage Assembly member Randy Sulte asked Larry Baker, a consultant with the city, what would happen if the funding wasn’t approved. 

“I can’t answer that question because I don’t know,” Baker said. “Because it was an integral part of the facilitation group that we collectively agreed that this was a necessary part, a necessary function in order to carry out the facilitation plan.”

Sulte ended up voting in favor of the shelter funding, along with Suzanne LaFrance, Kevin Cross, Felix Rivera, Kameron Perez-Verdia and Jamie Allard. 

Some Assembly members questioned the long-term costs as well as the proposed timeline. Bronson officials on Tuesday estimated the new shelter could start housing people by late July. Assembly member Pete Petersen said he’s concerned the cit won’t be able to recruit qualified workers to operate the navigation center that fast. 

“I worry that even if the shelter is built, will we have the people to actually run it, to make it function the way it should?” Petersen said. “Just moving over the people that have been running Sullivan, I don’t know if that is going to be a long-term solution to making the navigation center work.”

Petersen voted against the funding, along with Forrest Dunbar, Chris Constant and Austin Quinn-Davidson. Member Meg Zaletel was excused from the meeting and was not present for the vote.

The shelter and navigation center are planned for the corner of Tudor and Elmore roads. The shelter has a capacity of 150 beds, with a surge capacity of 200. In total, Bronson’s administration has estimated the project costing just under $12 million, with another $1.5 million to furnish it.

The navigation center and shelter is part of a slate of new projects Bronson’s administration hopes to bring online to combat the city’s rising homelessness issue. Also included are facilities for substance misuse treatment, workforce and supportive housing and complex care.

This story previously stated member Meg Zaletel was involved with the funding proposal. She was not.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.

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