Private donors put $7M toward Anchorage’s homelessness plan
By Emily Goodykoontz
A group of private organizations is donating $7 million toward Anchorage’s plan to fast-track several homelessness services projects as part of an effort to close the city’s pandemic-era emergency mass care operations by June 30.
The Anchorage Assembly has already allocated $6 million toward the projects, bringing the total so far to $13 million. Private donors include the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Calista Corp., Chugach Alaska Corp., Doyon Ltd., Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, Providence Alaska, the Rasmuson Foundation and Weidner Apartment Homes.
Several representatives of the donating organizations, Assembly members and Mayor Dave Bronson spoke to reporters Monday about the public-private partnership between the donors and the city and their efforts to drastically expand homelessness services in Anchorage.
“It’s not just a mass care exit strategy,” said Meg Zaletel, interim director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness and a Midtown Assembly member. “It is the community’s plan to end homelessness.”
The coalition has taken a leadership role in the effort as the city seeks to shut down its congregate shelter at Sullivan Arena. The municipality so far has closed three of its non-congregate shelter sites at hotels such as the Sockeye Inn.
In February, city leaders announced an ambitious timeline to end Sullivan operations, fast-tracking several projects in a scramble to implement a “mass care exit strategy” negotiated between the Bronson administration and the Assembly. The strategy, passed unanimously by the Assembly, is the result of a monthslong, ongoing negotiation process, after the Assembly scuttled a previous Bronson proposal to construct a 450-person temporary shelter in East Anchorage.
“Out of this difficult, sometimes tense, sometimes arduous process will come a future that will, if we commit to doing the work, finally bring back hope to those who have been without hope for so long,” Assembly member Felix Rivera told reporters. Rivera is the chair of the Assembly’s committee on housing and homelessness.
Private partners said Monday that the exit plan agreement between the Assembly and Bronson administration and coordination efforts from the coalition laid the foundation for private philanthropy to step in and help. A number of the private donors involved in the effort in 2019 had said they would commit $40 million toward addressing homelessness in Anchorage.
“We needed a clear direction, and that plan now exists,” said Diane Kaplan, president and CEO of the Rasmuson Foundation.
The money is going toward a few parts of the city’s exit plan:
• A 61-room housing facility at the Sockeye Inn that will provide complex care to individuals who are medically fragile or who have other complex needs.
• A workforce and permanent supportive housing facility at Fifth Avenue and Cordova Street that will provide 130 rooms of stable housing. Public officials have so far declined to disclose the exact building or who will hold ownership because a purchase sale agreement has not yet been signed.
• A proposed 200-person shelter and navigation center near Tudor and Elmore roads, with a surge capacity of up to 130 more individuals.
The exit plan also includes treatment, and the Salvation Army’s facility at 660 E. 48th Ave. is under renovation and will be a 68-person residential treatment center for substance misuse.
All together, the four pieces of the plan will house about 500 individuals, according to the Rasmuson Foundation.
A fifth piece of the plan includes housing or shelter for special populations, including couples, women, elders and LGBTQ individuals. The city has not yet announced a site.
Bronson said partnering with the private sector will help the city move the plan forward.
“It’s a commitment to work together with the goal to systematically bring compassionate care to our residents experiencing homelessness,” Bronson said. “… My administration is working with the Anchorage Assembly to move people from the streets into permanent housing and connect them to the services they need to be successful. We’re using a ‘No Wrong Door’ approach that is tailored towards an individual’s needs.”
The Assembly on Tuesday will hold a public hearing on a request from the administration for another $6.2 million to construct the proposed East Anchorage shelter at Tudor and Elmore roads.
Rivera said that the Assembly is unlikely to finish its agenda at its Tuesday meeting, when it originally planned to vote on the funding, and so will likely schedule a special meeting later in the week for the vote.
The shelter and navigation center proposal has seen pushback from some Assembly members and community groups concerned with the facility’s size, its costs, potential impacts to nearby neighborhoods and for homeless individuals staying at the shelter.
Assembly member Forrest Dunbar said the plan presented by the city and funders on Monday cites smaller facilities scattered around Anchorage in order to lessen impacts to any one neighborhood. That is “directly contradictory to the 330-person facility that they’re trying to build” at Tudor and Elmore, Dunbar said. He said he hopes the administration is willing to limit the size of the facility.
Asked whether he would consider shrinking the proposed size of the navigation center, Bronson said, “that’s an Assembly decision.”
Details about the project have been sparse, and members of the public and Assembly members have called for more transparency and information about the plans.
Rivera said he believes there will be a thorough presentation about the project at the possible special meeting that will answer many of the questions.
“I am cautiously optimistic that after we achieve those goals, that we will get to six votes whenever we actually have that public hearing and vote. But there are key issues that we need to address,” Rivera said.
City officials and homelessness experts have said that standing up each piece of the city’s plan — including a navigation center where people receive immediate access to services — is essential to ending mass care and bringing the city closer to ending homelessness.