The Bronson administration is detailing plans for a large, city-funded property in Anchorage

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Dr. John Morris speaks during a special presentation of a proposal for a large mass shelter in East Anchorage June 15, 2021. (Jeff Chen / Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage’s new mayor’s office is detailing a plan that would turn the way the city works and funding homeless services upside down, focusing on a proposed emergency shelter in East Anchorage that could accommodate up to 1,000 people if necessary.

For the first time, the city would build and operate an animal shelter. Currently, nonprofits pay most of the accommodation in the city.

“We are changing. It’s a fundamental change, ”said Dave Bronson in an interview after the presentation.

A large white building in the middle of some trees
An artist’s rendering of the new structure proposed for the corner of Tudor and Elmore Streets in Anchorage. (Screenshot from the presentation of the meeting committee)

Dr. John Morris, who heads homelessness for the Bronson government, presented the plan at a special session of the Assembly’s Housing and Homelessness Committee.

Some details were released by members of the congregation last week after meeting with the Bronson team. But Morris provided more details at Tuesday’s presentation and released more context on the proposal.

About the new details published on Tuesday:

  • The proposal calls the building a “navigation center” with on-site services to connect people to housing, medical and labor services. They say that due to a city-wide lack of services, pooling accommodations in a single location would allow better access.
  • The building will initially focus on creating 400 beds to accommodate people currently in the Sullivan Arena emergency shelter. Beds and service providers would be divided into several soundproofed rooms within the larger shelter and possibly walled around each bed.
  • The Bronson team estimated the shelter would cost less than $ 15 million to build, plus up to $ 12 million a year in city funding to run the shelter.
  • The construction schedule could put the shelter into operation by mid-September. Morris suggested that the most likely shelter design would be a jump structure, a style of easy-to-build, prefabricated building that was used for other similar projects across the country.
  • The shelter would have space for couples, pets, and a place to store items.
  • The navigation center would be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so people could come and go at any time.

“I think philosophically it’s pretty deep,” said Congregation member John Weddleton. “It wasn’t the congregation’s or the city’s plan to actually set up a shelter and run it with city money.”

The plan faces clear challenges. First and foremost is to convince the members of the congregation to fund the project.

A diagram of the proposed jump shelter with 13 separate rooms (above in dark black) as well as a common area in the proposed shelter (screenshot from the presentation of the meeting)

“We just need a lot more details about it. Most of all, we need costs, we need sources of funding, ”said Forrest Dunbar, a member of the East Anchorage Assembly. In an interview after the presentation, Dunbar doubted the estimate of the timely construction of the building.

“Given that they said they want it to be done by the weather change, knowing that if you try to rush things, things get more expensive, I think the $ 15 million price tag is very optimistic “, he said.

John Weddleton challenged some of the government’s claims that large new housing would be cheaper than a previous government plan to buy an existing building. In May, incumbent Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson proposed buying a former gym that could seat 125 people for $ 5.4 million.

Other members of the gathering also expressed concern about the schedule for approval of a structure in wetlands, how much time the administration would have to engage with the public and convince homeless people to stay in a shelter.

“If you build it, we hope they come, but the entire infrastructure around it is parts that we have been working on for years,” said Congregation member Kameron Perez-Verdia at the meeting. “I think for this to be successful all of the other parts must be in place, and I’m not sure they are still there.”

In recent years the gathering has focused on building several smaller shelters in different parts of the city. They say the concentration of the homeless in one place brings with it the attraction of drug traffickers, human traffickers, and other problems that the neighborhood should bear.

People sit on seats and listen to a presentation
A crowd listens as Dr. John Morris presented a proposal for large mass housing in East Anchorage on June 15, 2021. (Jeff Chen / Alaska Public Media)

The smaller properties have met serious opposition from neighboring residents and businesses.

In his presentation on Tuesday, Morris admitted that smaller accommodations are better for a number of reasons, but argued that having large accommodations has advantages.

He said it was easier to staff services in a single shelter than in multiple locations, and it was more cost-effective to group in one main location.

He also pointed out the advantages of the location: it’s close to hospitals like the Alaska Native Medical Center, is on city-owned land, is adjacent to an existing police station, and is already zoned to accommodate housing.

Morris also said the government’s goal is to provide permanent housing – not just shelter.

“We are first committed to living. Housing is a solution to homelessness. Period, ”he said in an interview after the presentation.

Lisa Aquino, the executive director of the Catholic Social Service who oversees some housing and housing services, said she was encouraged that the new administration was committed to funding services. The Catholic Social Service has traditionally relied on fundraising for 70% of its operations.

“In most other cities in the United States, the local government or the county or state government pays for low-barrier accommodation,” she said. “So this is very common and something that the Catholic Social Service has been bringing to previous mayors and the congregation for a long time.”

But she will look carefully at how the project will be financed.

The Bronson transition team said they intend to meet with the community in the next two weeks before taking office. They are hosting a public dialogue that will be open to the public on Thursday at the Wilda Marston Theater in the Loussac Library from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.


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