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Anchorage Rushes to Secure Adequate Shelter for Homeless Population Before Alaskan Winter Arrives

by Madison Thomas
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Anchorage Homeless Crisis

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson received nationwide focus earlier this summer for suggesting the purchase of one-way flight tickets for any homeless individuals wishing to depart Alaska’s largest city prior to the onset of winter.

As the first snowfall looms just weeks away, however, the promised tickets have yet to materialize, forcing the city to hastily assemble a diverse array of housing alternatives for its over 3,000 unhoused residents. Plans for a new permanent shelter and navigation center were scrapped after the existing mass shelter at a sports complex was shut down amid neighborhood complaints and political disagreements between Anchorage’s liberal Assembly and its conservative mayor.

The Anchorage Assembly has recently approved a $4 million budget allocation for emergency housing solutions and is slated to vote on additional facets of the emergency plan in the coming week. City officials express confidence that sufficient emergency housing options will be prepared, but the overall sentiment on the streets remains bleak.

Scott Gibson, facing his second winter in Alaska without a roof over his head, stated, “Many people will freeze to death.” Gibson lost most of his belongings when someone vandalized his tent. He currently owns only what fits in a single backpack, and is attempting to earn money by fixing an old car in a homeless camp across from the city library.

Extreme cold, with temperatures reaching as low as minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 degrees Celsius), is a defining feature of Anchorage winters, intensified by wind chills from Cook Inlet. Last winter, the city recorded an all-time high of 24 outdoor deaths among the homeless, with 11 fatalities occurring between October 2022 and April 2023, according to Alexis Johnson, the city’s director of homeless services.

Anchorage is home to an estimated 3,150 homeless individuals. With current shelter capacities, approximately 775 people remain without housing, said Johnson. Although four additional housing facilities were recently brought online, potentially accommodating another 310 individuals, the city is still in need of winter housing for an estimated 400 to 450 people.

One of the strategies involves renting hotel rooms to keep the mass winter shelter population to no more than 150 people, per Assembly conditions for releasing emergency funds. The city is also considering utilizing a recently emptied administrative building as an alternative low-barrier shelter, Johnson indicated.

Assembly member Felix Rivera underscored that the city’s approach cannot simply rely on creating another large-scale, temporary shelter; it must include a more permanent solution and a viable path for transitioning to long-term housing. A $1.3 million grant was recently awarded to the Anchorage Affordable and Housing Land Trust to renovate vacant properties into approximately 40 new housing units, with plans to move people into these units by April.

Mayor Bronson previously opined that sending homeless individuals to other states or areas within Alaska could be a cost-saving measure, eliciting backlash from mayors in California and Hawaii, as well as skepticism from Anchorage’s own homeless community.

The city has invested $161 million in addressing the homelessness crisis since 2020. However, the issue remains critical, and many question the effectiveness of the funds spent. Greg Smith, a homeless resident, summed up the sentiment by saying, “What do we have to show for it? Nothing. We make do by sharing and huddling together to survive the winter.”

Political discord between the Assembly and the mayor has further complicated the city’s efforts to open a new shelter. A contract was authorized by the mayor without Assembly approval, leading to a nearly $2.5 million settlement with the contractor for work already completed.

Anchorage, with a population of approximately 300,000, represents 40% of Alaska’s total population but accounts for 65% of the state’s homeless population, according to Mayor Bronson.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Anchorage Homeless Crisis

What was Mayor Dave Bronson’s initial proposal to address homelessness in Anchorage?

Mayor Dave Bronson initially proposed purchasing one-way flight tickets for any homeless individuals willing to leave Anchorage prior to the onset of winter.

How many homeless individuals are estimated to be in Anchorage?

Anchorage is home to an estimated 3,150 homeless individuals.

What complications have arisen in the city’s efforts to establish new shelters?

Complications include neighborhood complaints about the existing mass shelter, political disagreements between the liberal Assembly and the conservative mayor, and unauthorized contract approvals that led to a nearly $2.5 million settlement with a contractor.

How many people died outdoors among Anchorage’s homeless population last winter?

Last winter, Anchorage recorded an all-time high of 24 outdoor deaths among the homeless population, with 11 fatalities occurring between October 2022 and April 2023.

What emergency measures are being considered by Anchorage’s Assembly?

The Anchorage Assembly has approved a $4 million budget allocation for emergency housing solutions and is set to vote on additional facets of the emergency plan in the coming week. Strategies include renting hotel rooms to limit mass winter shelter population and potentially using a recently emptied administrative building as a low-barrier shelter.

How much has Anchorage spent on the homelessness crisis since 2020?

According to Mayor Bronson, the city has invested $161 million in addressing the homelessness crisis since 2020.

What was the public reaction to Mayor Bronson’s initial proposal?

Mayor Bronson’s initial proposal to buy one-way tickets for the homeless to leave Anchorage drew backlash from mayors in California and Hawaii, as well as skepticism from Anchorage’s own homeless community.

What is the city’s estimated need in terms of winter beds for the homeless?

City leaders estimate that they still need to find winter housing for an estimated 400 to 450 people.

What are the conditions like for homeless individuals in Anchorage during winter?

Winter conditions in Anchorage can be extremely harsh, with temperatures reaching as low as minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 degrees Celsius), and exacerbated by wind chills from Cook Inlet.

What are some of the long-term housing solutions being discussed?

Long-term solutions include the renovation of vacant properties into approximately 40 new housing units through a $1.3 million grant awarded to the Anchorage Affordable and Housing Land Trust. The plan is to transition people into these units by April.

More about Anchorage Homeless Crisis

  • Anchorage Mayor’s Proposed Solution
  • Anchorage Homelessness Statistics
  • Political Discord in Anchorage
  • Anchorage Assembly’s Emergency Measures
  • Anchorage Affordable and Housing Land Trust
  • Anchorage Winter Conditions
  • Anchorage Homelessness Funding Since 2020

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