Municipality discusses implementation of cold weather shelter plan

Municipality discuses implementation of cold weather shelter plan
Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 6:13 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly is dedicating more than $5.7 million in unspent funds to aid those dealing with housing insecurity this winter.

Anchorage’s Housing and Homeless Coordinator Alexis Johnson said the health department’s emergency cold weather shelter is coming along nicely, and it should have the units it needs to help the 450 people who will be in need of shelter this winter.

Roughly $2.4 million of the funds the Assembly approved are unused American Rescue Plan Act funds to be dedicated to the use of congregant, non-congregate and warming centers this winter. Johnson is optimistic that community partners will be interested in working with the municipality this winter.

“We had quite a few respondents that we had communication with,” Johnson said.

Johnson said three facilities have expressed interest in being non-congregate providers. Those providers should be able to offer 350 beds total, she said.

“Two of the respondents are historic providers for non-congregate sheltering in the city. I’m not allowed to name them right now, but they have participated in sheltering in the past,” Johnson said.

For the other hundred beds needed, Johnson said the municipality is looking at utilizing the former Solid Waste Service central transfer station facility as a congregate shelter. The Assembly passed an amended resolution Tuesday to explore the possibility of using the facility.

“It does look like a promising facility for this winter, we have a housing and homelessness committee meeting next Wednesday where we will talk about it,” Johnson said.

It’s Johnson’s aspiration to have the facility in operation by Oct. 15, when the emergency cold weather shelter plan is activated.

But Assembly member Randy Sulte said he likes the idea of the facility being used as a navigation center, which was the original intent of the resolution he introduced before it was amended, but has reservations about it being used as a low barrier shelter.

“We’ve had too many failed attempts in Anchorage, and we need to make this successful. So, I think that means you know, screening the clientele, definitely starting off with a strong security presence to make sure we don’t get any bad elements in there,” Sulte said.

If it can be done right, Sulte says he will likely vote in favor of making the facility a congregate shelter if the Assembly decides to bring it up for a vote.

“Location-wise, it’s okay. It’s not great ... What I like about it is that the administration building is pretty much ready to go as a navigation center. The site is fenced in. The maintenance shop, if you are to use that, is basically just a large open space — and then it has room to grow if you wanted to put a pallet shelter community or allow the camping aspect,” Sulte said.

Additionally, a member of the Taku Campbell Community Council said that group is planning to discuss its thoughts on the facility being used as a congregate shelter at tonight’s community council meeting.

Johnson said the remaining $3.2 million is available to fulfill the assembly’s vision for more permanent housing needs, such as restoring vacant homes or hotel conversions.

In two weeks the Assembly plans to take a vote on dedicating another $957,000 in unused funds to the emergency cold weather shelter plan.