Anchorage task force urges city to use Golden Lion Hotel and Dempsey Anderson Ice Arena as emergency homeless shelters

The community task force called by the Anchorage Assembly to quickly draft plans to house hundreds of homeless residents this winter has urged the city to open shelters in two city-owned buildings – the former Golden Lion Hotel in Midtown and the Dempsey Anderson Ice Arena in Spénard.

While all city-owned facilities “exhibit some level of community impact and/or public outcry”, use of the hotel and rink would impose the smallest burden on the community compared to other properties in the city and they are immediately available, the task force said in its recommendations. .

The group released its preliminary recommendations on Friday. The proposed plan would house between 415 and 466 people, adding capacity for around 330 in shelter and 85 to 136 in housing.

The Task Force is a group of approximately 30 individuals with expertise or experience in the area of ​​homelessness and related social services and is led by the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness. It includes the coalition’s executive director, Meg Zaletel, who is also a member of the Midtown Assembly; Assemblyman Felix Rivera; City Ombudsman Darrel Hess; Lisa Sauder, CEO of Bean’s Cafe; and others from a wide range of community organizations and homeless services, including United Way, Covenant House, RurAL CAP, and the Anchorage Department of Health.

His proposal comes as city officials scramble to open enough emergency winter shelters for more than 350 people living homeless in Anchorage — and the September 30 closing date for camp City-sanctioned homelessness at Centennial Park Campground is fast approaching.

Given the impending deadline and the cold weather, the group’s recommendations focused on what could be done immediately to provide shelter for the next 90 days. From early to mid-October, the task force will present a broader report and new recommendations for continued emergency accommodation this winter, the group said.

In its preliminary recommendations, the task force said that setting up shelters in city-owned facilities allows for the fastest possible relief and would help the city meet Centennial’s planned closing date, announced by the Mayor Dave Bronson earlier this month. An estimated 200 or more people are living homeless in the city campground, where the Bronson administration directed and transported homeless residents when the Sullivan Arena mass shelter closed in June.

The city also faces a legal deadline to open an emergency shelter. Anchorage law requires officials to open an emergency shelter once temperatures drop below 45 degrees and “when the lack of available shelter options poses a danger to the life and health of unprotected persons.” sheltered”.

The working group’s preliminary recommendations indicate that the city should:

• Use the Golden Lion Hotel as a non-collective emergency shelter. It is owned by the city, has 85 hotel rooms already furnished, could be activated immediately and is currently unused. This could accommodate 85 to 170 people, depending on the number of people sharing a room, and is the cheapest at around $371,000 for operations from October to December.

[Anchorage’s last COVID-era shelter is in a downtown hotel. The clock is ticking on its closure.]

• Open a refuge for 240 to 260 people in the Dempsey Anderson or Ben Boeke arena. Dempsey is the better option because the other arena is located downtown and is the current home of Wolverines hockey, the task force said. It would cost around $1.372 million for three months.

Dena’ina or Egan centers could also be used as shelters but are “less desirable due to their downtown location and lack of showers,” the task force said. The use of trailer mounted showers indoors would be possible.

• Give money to existing shelter providers to expand their programs. Covenant House, a youth shelter, could add 25 beds with additional funding of $200,000. Beans Cafe could open beds for 40 people with an additional $306,000. Both are able to rapidly increase their capacity, but they need funding to do so.

• The Refuge Frère François will open another 20 beds from next month. This is already funded.

The task force also included a list of potential shelter locations that could be used later in the winter, including private buildings and hotels. Then, depending on capacity needs, the rink could be removed.

The need for shelter will likely increase past 350 this winter as the city phases out its shelter at the Aviator Hotel, rental assistance ends for some households and because shelters are generally more used in the coldest parts of winter, the task force said.

The mayor proposed his own emergency shelter plan earlier this month, but the administration provided few details at the time and the plan met with skepticism from Assembly members. The mayor has since flip-flopped on key aspects of his plan – the mayor announced last week that he would open shelters at two community recreation centers at the end of the month, after first describing them as a last resort option in his plan. Days after the announcement, he reversed course on the recreation centers and said he would not use them, following outcry over the repurposing of critical buildings in the neighborhood.

Coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic, Dempsey Anderson Ice Arena

Bronson’s plans include housing residents in 20 portable buildings likely provided by the Anchorage School District, distributing city grants to organizations and churches that set up their own shelter sites, continuing the housing people in rooms at the Aviator Hotel downtown and opening a planned shelter in East Anchorage. and the navigation center which is currently under construction.

The task force in its recommendations decried the portable building idea for the lack of toilets and showers in buildings and for not yet identifying feasible locations.

In an email to the Daily News, a school district spokeswoman said the buildings are “structurally serviceable.”

The school district has an “excess inventory of movable buildings and has had an ongoing need to reduce its excess because the buildings are not ideal for all-weather use,” spokeswoman Lisa Miller said. “Most of these buildings have been in ASD’s inventory for over 30 years and have come about through a long period of growth and construction. »

The use of the proposed 150-bed shelter and navigation center being built on Tudor and Elmore roads, as proposed by the mayor, is becoming increasingly unlikely. The project was nearly killed this week by Assembly members, who nearly rejected the $4.9 million needed to continue construction entirely.

[In a switch-up of 3 top city officials, Anchorage Mayor Bronson names new homeless coordinator]

The future of this project, which was spearheaded by the Bronson administration, remains precarious. He expects another Assembly vote on funding at the end of October. Many Assembly members are skeptical or outright opposed, pointing to inflated costs, a rushed schedule and a lack of critical information from the administration, such as a site survey or an operating plan.

Even without the funding delay, it was not expected to be completed until the spring, although Bronson officials said it could begin housing people at partial capacity in late November or early December.

Some moderate-to-liberal Assembly members have indicated their vote on funding will depend on Bronson agreeing to use the Golden Lion as an emergency shelter this winter. They also say he needs to make real efforts to convert the hotel into a long-term drug treatment facility. It’s a proposed project that Bronson has long opposed, and his criticism of the purchase was a fundamental refrain of his mayoral campaign.

Assembly members warned of the millions of dollars in funding set aside for the navigation center and shelter, demanding a firm written commitment and good faith effort from Bronson to convert the former Golden Lion Hotel in a drug treatment center.

Last week, Bronson announced he was not planning to install a treatment facility in the building because a planned $100 million public transportation project on the Seward Freeway and 36th Avenue, which won’t is not yet funded, would affect the property and has a “high probability” of a “total takeover of the property.”

However, at an Assembly meeting this week, the mayor indicated he could become more open to finding a use for the property, and said he was “open to meeting with the Anchorage Assembly to discuss what we are going to do in the short and short term”. long term.”

For now, the Golden Lion is unused. Broad support for its use as an emergency shelter this winter appears to be growing among Assembly members, including those generally more aligned with Bronson’s conservative administration.

“As for the Golden Lion, I just want to say, look, if we can use stadiums and we can use existing hotels and we can use campgrounds and we can use temporary structures, I don’t know. why we can’t use the Golden Lion,” member Kevin Cross said at Tuesday’s Assembly meeting. “I’m not a lawyer and it’s not a Holiday Inn, but it seems to me that we own this thing and I would really like to use it in some way.”

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