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Organization granted Sullivan Arena contract was formed last year; city says experience of its leadership fulfills contract requirements

Bean's Cafe sign.
Bean's Cafe sign.(KTUU)
Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 4:28 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 15, 2021 at 6:52 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - After Bean’s Cafe operated temporary homeless shelter services at the Sullivan Arena for 18 months, a new operational contract for those services has been awarded to a for-profit organization that was formed last year, despite the city’s contract bidding process requiring an organization to have three years of experience.

The municipal contract with Bean’s Cafe to provide shelter services was set to end Wednesday. Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration announced last week that a plan was in place to transition those services, and that a request for proposals had been sent out to find a new service provider for the contract. On Sunday, 99 Plus 1 Inc. was announced as the organization that was chosen take over that contract.

The transition between Bean’s Cafe and the new organization will take place at about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to Communications Directors Corey Allen Young from Mayor Dave Bronson’s office.

A seven-member committee — independent of the city but organized through the municipality, a spokesperson for Bronson’s administration said — selected 99 Plus 1 Inc. to take over the operational details of the shelter for the foreseeable future, according to Bob Doehl, developmental services director and building official for the city. He explained that the Federal Emergency Management Agency requires a competitive process when selecting a corporation or nonprofit organization to provide specific services through a contract. A request for proposals was released to find the most qualified bidder.

Doehl said that, according to the city’s request for bids, any organization wishing to submit a proposal must have a minimum of three years of proven success operating programs like the one at the Sullivan Arena. However, state records show that 99 Plus 1 Inc. has only been in existence since September 2020.

Doehl defended the selection by explaining that, between the two of them, 99 Plus 1 Inc. Director Theresa Pisa and General Manager Jason Cates have a combined 10 years of experience in providing shelter services and other services relevant to the operation of mass shelters. The search included more than just the requirement of the organization existing for at least three years, Doehl said — the requirements also took into account the background and experience of the people behind an organization.

“There’s a requirement that you supply the resume or other information of the folks that would be running it,” Doehl said. “You look at the entity as well and looking at those together. And looking at the experience that came to offer on this, we’ll start with the shelter manager. A shelter manager (Cates) with over a decade of experience working in mass, what we call congregate shelters, non-congregate, individual rooms and affordable housing.”

“When we look at that totality of the experience of the individuals involved, the Homelessness Management Information System fluency, and even just the key people there,” Doehl continued. “And their organizational background dealing with this population and dealing with, frankly, temporary shelter homes, which the Anchorage Safety Center is, for those who are really vulnerable at any given time. There’s a lot of ways they met that.”

FEMA will cover 100% of the cost of the Sullivan Arena mass shelter through at least the end of the year. There is currently no end date for the COVID-19 emergency use authorization, according to Doehl. After that date is set, funding will be 75% federal, 25% state of Alaska and 100% reimbursable pursuant to the grant agreement. Purpose, time, and amount play key factors in the determination of whether the funds will be reimbursed.

Lisa Sauder, executive director of Bean’s Cafe, shared plans for the future of the organization as they prepare to sell their building at 1101 E. Third Avenue.

“We are demobilizing all of our equipment and our staff and trying to connect them with resources for resumes, for interviews, helping them,” she said. “We’re hoping to retain some of the staff. We’ll have quite a bit of work to do to move those items. But we also have plans for our next phase which involves the sale of this building.”

Sauder stressed that her organization will continue to serve the community as it has for approximately 42 years, although it will look different. She talked about how proud she is that her team was able to support the largest city homeless shelter in response to COVID-19.

“We had less than a 2% COVID transmission rate,” Sauder said.

Doehl is hopeful that current Bean’s Cafe employees can be hired by 99 Plus 1, Inc. and stressed that the city saw putting out a request for proposals as the most transparent option to fulfill the Sullivan Arena contract after the current one was set to end. The seven-member panel was not named, but the group was contractually obligated under the city code section for municipal contracts to be fair and unbiased, according to Doehl.

“We needed a new contract,” he said. “We didn’t necessarily need a new provider but we needed a new contract. We’re out of the period legally where we could extend under the old one. And in order to ensure going forward, that we were reasonably meeting expectations in cost, the best way to determine that is let the market decide.”

Anchorage Assembly member Meg Zalatel agreed that the request process ensures the municipality is getting the best services for the best price. She stated that she has received assurances from the Emergency Operations Center on site that a smooth transition is underway.

According to Young, mass care staff will be on site for the scheduled transition Wednesday night.

“Bean’s has already removed much of its property.” Young said in an email Wednesday. “Returning clients will be provided with boxes for their personal property and locks to secure them.”

There are mixed feelings regarding the change amongst clients and guests of the Sullivan Arena.

“The only downfall that we’ve seen so far is that they’ve taken our totes, that’s basically what we keep all our belongings in.” Julio Morales, one of those clients, told Alaska’s News Source on Wednesday. “As of right now, we have everything in bags but to me, I feel like these people have held it down the entire time. I’m actually really excited to see how the new management is going to do, because the staff is already great. And if they end up teaming up with the next staff, it’s going to be crazy. It will only be better.”

Some did not share the same amount of optimism.

“The new company is coming in that I’ve had plenty of experience with and they’re not a good company. It’s not going to be good.” said Jane Camirand, another client at the arena. “So far they’ve taken away our totes, they stopped showers, stopped laundry services. They’ve cut the food back to three meals a day and they’re supposed to be taking our bunks here pretty soon. So everybody will be sleeping here on the floor which I won’t be able to do because I’d never get up again. I’ve had plenty of experience with 99 Plus 1 and I do not believe it’s a good trade.”

Under the new contract, Young said previously that the municipality will be providing cots to people staying at the arena going forward.

He said Wednesday that returning clients will be provided with boxes for their personal property and locks to help secure them. In addition to the transition scheduled for tonight, there may be some time on Thursday when the main floor is not available for cots as it is cleaned, according to Young.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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