Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson gained nationwide consideration this summer season when he proposed shopping for one-way airfare out of Alaska’s largest metropolis for anybody with out housing who needed to go away earlier than winter.
Now, with the first snow simply weeks away, these free tickets are nowhere in sight and the metropolis is scrambling to pull collectively a seize bag of housing choices for its greater than 3,000 unsheltered residents. The metropolis’s mass shelter in a sports activities enviornment closed after complaints from neighbors about dangerous conduct and bickering between the metropolis’s liberal Assembly and conservative mayor killed hopes for a brand new everlasting shelter and navigation heart to take its place.
The Anchorage Assembly simply accepted $4 million in funds and can vote on further parts of an emergency plan subsequent week. City leaders — who estimate they nonetheless want to find up to 450 winter beds — say they’re assured they’ve sufficient emergency housing prepared, however the temper on the streets is grim.
“A lot of people are going to freeze,” stated Scott Gibson, who’s making ready to spend his second Alaska winter exterior. Someone not too long ago destroyed Gibson’s tent and stole most of what was inside. Now all the things he owns suits in a backpack.
“I have nothing,” he stated, as he tried to make some cash repairing an outdated automobile at a homeless encampment throughout from the metropolis library.
Cold snaps can plunge temperatures to minus 20 levels Fahrenheit for days in Anchorage, the place winds whip off Cook Inlet.
Anchorage final winter had a report 24 deaths outside amongst the homeless inhabitants, with 11 fatalities occurring in the winter months between October 2022 and April 2023, stated Alexis Johnson, the metropolis’s homeless director. The metropolis started maintaining data in 2017.
Alaska’s largest metropolis has an estimated 3,150 homeless people and sufficient room in shelters for all however about 775 folks, Johnson stated. The metropolis not too long ago introduced 4 extra housing amenities, which may create house for one other 310 folks, however continues to be in search of winter housing for an estimated 400 to 450 folks.
By renting resort rooms, Johnson hopes to restrict the capability of a mass winter homeless shelter to not more than 150 folks — considered one of the Assembly’s stipulations when releasing the emergency funds. The metropolis needs to use a not too long ago vacated administration constructing as a makeshift low-barrier shelter, Johnson stated.
“We are executing as fast as we can to get that done,” the mayor stated.
The meeting final week additionally awarded a $1.3 million grant to the Anchorage Affordable and Housing Land Trust, which is able to want to match the funding to rehabilitate vacant and deserted properties for about 40 new housing models. They need to begin transitioning folks out of winter shelters in April.
Assembly member Felix Rivera stated the resolution simply can’t be standing up one other warehouse-style mass shelter, however should embrace a everlasting shelter and an early path to transition to longer-term housing. The new models in vacant or deserted properties will kickstart that effort, he stated.
With Alaska’s extra-short summer season development season, “there must be a lot of progress made between now and April 1” to keep away from a repeat of the rush for emergency housing subsequent winter, Rivera stated.
Bronson in July instructed it will be cheaper to fly homeless folks to different states or elsewhere in Alaska than to home them for the winter. The unfunded proposal drew offended rebukes from mayors in California and Hawaii and skepticism from many in Anchorage’s personal unsheltered group.
“I’m not trying to get rid of people to get rid of them,” Bronson stated in an interview this week. “I’m trying to get people to a solution where they don’t freeze to death.”
During the pandemic, Anchorage configured the roughly 6,000-seat Sullivan Arena to be a mass-care facility. It has served greater than 500 homeless folks in the winters till metropolis officers determined to return it to its authentic goal, internet hosting concert events and hockey video games.
Homeless encampments sprang up throughout the metropolis, together with close to Anchorage’s historic prepare depot utilized by hundreds of vacationers this summer season.
Political rigidity between the liberal-leaning Assembly and the conservative mayor over coverage and course of has slowed progress on what was to be a brand new shelter on the metropolis’s east aspect. Work stopped after Bronson accepted the contract with out Assembly approval, and the governing physique wound up paying the contractor almost $2.5 million to settle a dispute over work already accomplished.
Anchorage, inhabitants 300,000, has 40% of the state’s inhabitants however 65% of Alaska’s homeless population, Bronson stated, including that the metropolis has spent $161 million on the homeless disaster since 2020.
Greg Smith, a homeless resident visiting pals at the camp above the depot, stated final winter, he wrapped blankets and plastic round his tent, which is warmed by a bit heater.
“What do we have to show for it? Nothing,” Smith stated of the cash spent by metropolis leaders.
“Everybody shares and huddles together,” he stated, “and you make it through winter.”