Prioritizing Housing as a Human Right by austin reynolds
As of this month, it has been two years since the Sullivan Arena became the primary mass shelter for Anchorage’s homeless population. Homelessness has remained a perpetual crisis throughout this time, but lately the city has been working diligently to enact the Mass Care Exit Strategy - a policy approved in November which would direct the homeless population out of the Sullivan Arena and into 5 different types of permanent shelter and housing.
These 5 different types of permanent shelter and housing are: - A single adult shelter and navigation center. - A workforce and permanent supportive housing facility. - A complex care facility. - Substance misuse treatment with housing. - A special populations facility for women and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Two of these forms of shelter, the workforce and permanent supportive housing facility at the Barratt Inn and complex care facility at the Sockeye Inn, are in the process of being made available to those in need. The Barratt Inn is currently being renovated to provide suitable housing for 90 people, while the sale will be closed on the Sockeye Inn by the end of March, at which point it will begin operating as a shelter for up to 120 people who have disabilities or other medical needs. After the Barratt Inn opens, the municipality will still need about 300 more housing units to meet the needs of the existing homeless population and for the fulfillment of the workforce and permanent supportive housing component of the plan.
On February 9th, the negotiation team and homelessness working group composed of members of the Bronson administration and the assembly released an implementation update for the Mass Care Exit Strategy. The update estimated that the city would need around 1,000 beds to shelter the homeless population, of which 416 would be in the form of housing, 658 would be at shelters and navigation centers, and 97 would be in residential treatment. The municipality is aiming to make these beds available by June 30, although this deadline is considered quite ambitious by many of those involved in the implementation process. Notably, this is the date that the city is projected to stop receiving FEMA funding from the Federal Government to keep the Sullivan Arena open. Therefore, a large-scale navigation center must be open by this deadline or the municipality will have to find other options.
Currently, the municipality plans to build a navigation center at the Anchorage Police Department’s vehicle evidence lot on 4501 Elmore Road. This navigation center would be capable of housing 200 people with a surge capacity of 330. $2.8 million in funding is allocated to this project at present, although it will likely require a larger amount. Because of this, the municipality has requested $15 million dollars in state funding - $5 million to be used for the navigation center, and another $5 million each for workforce and permanent supportive housing, and the special populations facility. This requested funding would be in addition to the $9.5 million that exists in a fund managed by the Alaska Community Foundation, and the $6 million already allocated specifically to the Barratt Inn and Sockeye Inn.
As for the other forms of shelter, the Salvation Army will be using its facility on 48th Avenue to provide 68 substance abuse treatment beds after repairs from the 2018 earthquake are finished, and other Salvation Army sites are being considered for use in this role as well. There is currently no location designated for use as a special populations’ facility however, as the negotiation team is still reviewing sites for this facility from the original list which contained over 70 potential shelters.
All of this is occurring at a time when the municipality has begun to conduct winter camp abatements, with the Parks and Recreation Department claiming to have conducted about 50 since December 22. These camp abatements, which evict people from public land and redirect them to the Sullivan Arena or other homeless services, are supposedly occurring due to the increased availability of shelter. The Sullivan Arena, for example, increased its capacity from 420 to 510 in December and while other forms of shelter are being made available, oftentimes existing housing options do not meet the needs of people who are living in these camps. The problems that this particular segment of the homeless population faces, often including severe mental illness and substance abuse issues, have yet to be fully addressed by the city, and adequate housing with treatment and complex care will only be made available through the Mass Care Exit Strategy – as of now, it does not exist in an organized capacity at current shelters. It is therefore crucial that each and every aspect of the Mass Care Exit Strategy is carried out in a timely manner. While homelessness in Anchorage is being addressed by this plan, it continues to be both a public health crisis and a human rights abuse against members of this community that demands a thorough and all-encompassing solution prioritizing housing as a human right.
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