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Residents near Sullivan Arena voice concerns about future of mass shelter during rocky transition

Published: Sep. 17, 2021 at 6:41 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - For Anchorage resident Joe Wood, things are looking better these days. When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, he lost his job as a chef at Eureka Lodge, which left him with no place to stay except for his car.

“I was left homeless and got tired of sleeping in my car and I found out about Sullivan Arena being open, and I was one of the first, like, 50 people there,” Wood said.

He says during his stay at the Sullivan Arena mass emergency shelter which was then operated by Bean’s Cafe, he ended up getting a job with the nonprofit as a chef, something he said completely changed his situation.

“I had to move out of there in order to keep my job and Bean’s provided me with the help and assistance to get out of there, and I’m very appreciative,” Wood said.

Wood now lives with his significant other, Patty Hutchinson, in the neighborhood across the street from the shelter. They say they initially had concerns about what things would look like with a new contractor taking over the mass shelter, because they’ve recently had some unpleasant experiences with clients from the shelter gathering by their home.

“I’ve had my license plates stolen, she (Patty) has had her property damaged, windows broken and smashed,” Wood said. “I can’t say necessarily that it was from the shelter, but it seems to bring a lot of people walking around consistently all night long,” said Hutchinson.

Wood says he fixed the window using money from his own pocket, but recently someone broke the couple’s window again. They say one of their neighbors who lives directly across the street even had his window shattered by a bullet. Another area of concern for the couple was what would happen on Thursday when the transition between Bean’s Cafe and 99 Plus 1 Inc. took place, meaning all residents had to leave the building for the day while the new contractor cleaned the floor and laid new cots across the arena.

Both the outgoing Bean’s Cafe and the city administration expressed frustration with each other during the transition. Corey Allen Young, spokesperson for Mayor Dave Bronson, said via text that the organization had left the arena with no toilet paper and that staff had returned “faulty keys” that left incoming staff without access to supplies. Young said locks had to be cut off the portable toilets at the shelter.

In response, Bean’s Cafe Executive Director Lisa Sauder said those claims don’t reflect her organization.

“Bean’s has been doing this kind of work with this population since 1979.” Sauder said. “We always want what’s in the best interest of our clients and our community. Those are pretty hurtful accusations and to think that we denied someone access to a bathroom or someone access to a shower ... it defies logic to me. Because that’s certainly not the nature of the type of organization.”

She also shared via email that Bean’s Cafe’s response to the city’s request for proposals included a proposed price of $327,532 to house 350 to 420 people for a one-month period. Sauder said this is less than what the city is paying for its new contract.

“There are a variety of factors that take place in the awarding of a contract,” Young said in response via email. “The contractor that was awarded the contract rated higher.”

As for Wood and Hutchinson, they say so far, their interaction with 99 Plus 1 has been positive.

“There was a disturbance around 10:30 p.m. — I’d just gotten home from work and was trying to relax and go to sleep, and we went over and talked to the director of security and they cleared it out within less than two minutes,” Wood said.

Both Wood and Hutchinson hope the mass shelter is just a temporary solution to address the issue of homelessness in Anchorage.

“I’m ready to get back to what the arena’s built for — concerts and hockey,” Hutchinson said. “Everybody misses hockey.”

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