Efforts to end homelessness continue in Anchorage Por austin reynolds
At an assembly meeting on May 10th, the Anchorage Assembly elected to approve the allocation of $6.2 million in funding for the construction of a navigation center at Tudor and Elmore Road. With the $6 million approved by this vote, the construction of the navigation center will go forward in a public-private partnership. Before voting, assembly members reviewed relevant documentation about the design, construction, and operation of the navigation center. This plan, which was condensed and presented by Felix Rivera and the Bronson administration at the end of April, estimated a $12 million construction cost for the center and provided a timeline for its completion in early November. New details estimate that the shelter will cost $10 million to build and will be fully erected by late August while being able to accommodate some occupants by August 1st.
The funding for this navigation center comes after public concerns over certain aspects of the proposal for the facility emerged. The concerns about the facility included the lack of access to nearby grocery stores, laundromats, and other necessary facilities as well as the shelter’s inability to provide permanent housing. Another concern over the site’s potential to become a mass shelter similar to the Sullivan Arena was addressed in a resolution passed in April, where the assembly voted to decrease the size of the proposal. According to this resolution, the navigation center would have its surge capacity decreased from 330 people to 200 people, with its regular capacity decreased from 200 to 150.
The navigation center is one part of the Mass Care Exit Strategy (MCES), a plan developed by negotiations between the Bronson administration and assembly to get people out of the Sullivan Arena and into housing and treatment. The strategy includes the creation of five different types of temporary housing and shelters: a single adult shelter and navigation center, a workforce and permanent supportive housing facility, a complex care facility, substance misuse treatment with housing, and a special populations facility for women and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Three of these housing types, the complex care facilities, workforce, and supportive housing facilities, and substance misuse treatment with housing are being funded by a $7 million donation put forward by partnering organizations including the Calista Corporation, Chugach Alaska, Doyon Limited, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, Weidner Apartment Homes, Providence, Alaska Mental Health Trust, and the Rasmuson Foundation. The $6.2 million dollars approved on May 10th will complete a $13 million increase in funding for the realization of 4 of the 5 aspects of the Mass Care Exit Strategy. However, there is still no plan in place for the construction or purchase of a special populations facility.
Next Steps The assembly works to finish the construction of the navigation center as quickly as possible and plans to permanently close the Sullivan by June 30th. Yet, the more arduous challenge of eradicating homelessness remains. To promptly achieve this goal, the assembly passed a resolution limiting the operation of the navigation center to two years. For the municipality, eradicating homelessness has been defined as reaching “functional zero” which would mean that the “city’s homeless services system actually prevents homelessness, and when it does happen, it is ‘rare, brief and one-time.’” The concept of bringing the homeless population in Anchorage to “functional zero”, gives the municipality the framework to attain a clear, tangible goal. Despite this, there are still important housing challenges in the city. So, the municipality will need to continue to invest in the MCES and establish more shelters to complete it. Not just that, but with 33% of households already rent-burdened within the city, the systemic housing crisis will also need to be addressed to ensure affordable housing is prevalent, easily accessible, and provided as a human right, rather than as a commodity.
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