As members of the Anchorage Assembly and Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration negotiate the city’s homelessness plans, they have identified 30 potential locations for a mass shelter this winter.
The list of possibilities spans several Anchorage neighborhoods, though many are in Midtown. It includes old retail spaces such as the shuttered Sam’s Club at Tikahtnu Commons, an old school, the Dena’ina Center and Sullivan Arena, where the city’s mass care facility is currently located.
The list is “scattershot,” including locations reviewed by the previous administrations and locations suggested by Assembly members and members of the public, said Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant, who is on the negotiation team.
“There’s no presumption that these are available properties,” Constant said. “These are just the ‘put it all on the board and see what sticks.‘ ”
Winter weather will soon arrive, and urgency has grown to find a different location for the city’s mass care shelter at the Sullivan Arena. The city stood up the shelter early last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The city’s contract with Bean’s Cafe, the nonprofit running the shelter, ends Sept. 15, and there’s pressure to return the arena to its normal uses.
Two facilitators and a negotiation team of six, which includes three Assembly members and three of Bronson’s advisers, have set a goal of Aug. 30 to agree on a winter shelter plan. That plan will later be introduced as a resolution at the Sept. 14 Assembly meeting. They are also negotiating the city’s longer-term homelessness plans.
“I’m really worried about the timeline, particularly for the winter. So I think that’s really front of mind for me,” said Assembly member Meg Zaletel, a member of the negotiation team and chair of the committee on housing and homelessness.
On Wednesday during a public meeting of the negotiation team, facilitator Belinda Breaux said that an “answer is just not obvious,” and that the complex decision needs a structured approach.
That approach includes a “draft framework” that the negotiators shared with the public and other Assembly members on Wednesday. It includes the list of sites and a set of agreed-upon “desired outcomes,” such as ensuring no one dies because of a lack of available shelter and returning Sullivan Arena to normal as soon as practical.
Possible mass care shelter sites listed in the framework are:
• 1000 4th Ave. (The vacant mental health clinic)
• 300 Calais Drive
• 333 W. 4th Ave. (The old Sunshine Mall)
• 4400 Business Park Blvd.
• 459 W. Bluff Drive (The old Petroleum building)
• 550 Bragaw St. (Previously Williwaw Elementary)
• 6689 Changepoint Drive (Same building as ChangePoint Alaska church)
• 814 W. Northern Lights Blvd. (The old Matanuska Maid building)
• 9051 King St. (The old Medline building)
• 949 E. 36th Ave. (The old VECO building)
• Former Alaska Club on Tudor Road
• The Dena’ina Center
• The Egan Center
• Eight acres at the southwest corner of Elmore Road and Dowling Road
• Former Federal Archives property (City-owned, empty land near Cuddy Park at E. 40th Ave. and Denali Street)
• JCPenney Furniture Warehouse on Arctic Boulevard and W. 32nd Avenue
• Northway Mall
• Point Woronzof — 50 acres at the west end of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, at the Salvation Army Clitheroe Center on West End Road
• Public land south of 100th Avenue and Minnesota Drive, 70 acres
• Salvation Army on 48th Avenue
• Sam’s Club at Tikahtnu Commons
• Sears Warehouse, 5900 Old Seward Highway
• Sullivan Arena
• Tudor and Elmore roads development site, former Anchorage Police Department evidence vehicle lot and A.B.A.T.E. of Anchorage Motorcycle Training Range
• Tudor and Elmore roads, Anchorage Police Department evidence vehicle lot
• The old Clare House on West 54th Avenue
• The Spenard Recreation Center
• The Fairview Recreation Center
• The Ben Boeke Ice Arena
• The Dempsey-Anderson Ice Arena
Breaux said they are continuing to take input on possible sites and the framework.
Bronson and his homelessness coordinator, Dr. John Morris, had proposed building a large, temporary shelter and navigation center in East Anchorage for 400 people that could shelter up to 1,000 in an emergency. That idea didn’t gain traction with most Assembly members, who prefer smaller, multiple shelter sites, and the Assembly has twice rejected proposals from the administration. The Assembly last month passed a resolution initiating the formal facilitated negotiation process.
Morris and Bronson have been adamant that their plan to construct a temporary shelter at the Anchorage Police Department’s evidence vehicle lot at the intersection of Tudor and Elmore roads is the city’s best option, but Assembly members have questioned the costs, feasibility and timeline.
After the meeting, Morris said the administration is looking at “a lot of options” for shelter sites through the negotiation process.
“We’ll see where we come out,” Morris said.
Meanwhile, the Bronson administration has enlisted Robert Marbut Jr., a controversial former Trump administration “homelessness czar,” as a month-to-month consultant for its homelessness plans.
Marbut was at the meeting and spoke, saying that a 450-person navigation center is the “sweet spot” for size in terms of cost.
Marbut is visiting sites on the list to evaluate them, he said after the meeting.
David Renard, president of RPM Team, a San Francisco program management firm that works with Sprung structures and homeless housing, was also present. Renard said he has been working with the administration since June to help develop the program for the proposed Tudor and Elmore shelter.
Constant said he expects to introduce a resolution at an Assembly special meeting on Friday to use $200,000 to conduct an independent cost analysis of all the options.
Constant said that Wednesday’s public meeting was intended to help incorporate the public in the process as negotiations move forward, so that the final plan is not a surprise and will be more likely to find support. It’s a “good demonstration that a lot of progress has been made,” he said.
“There is not yet a meeting of the minds but the minds are coming together,” Constant said after Wednesday’s meeting.