The Municipality of Anchorage has finalized a plan to transition out of the temporary shelter facility at the Sullivan Arena and toward more sustainable shelter and housing solutions in Anchorage. The plan would allow the Sullivan Arena to return to its original use this fall.
In 2020, COVID-19 caused existing nonprofit shelters to reduce their capacity in order to meet physical distancing requirements. At the same time, more people entered homelessness in Anchorage as the economic impacts of the pandemic hit the community. The Municipality stood up the Sullivan Arena shelter, which has become a national model for mass care shelter facilities that safely provide hundreds of people each night with shelter, food, and connection to services.
Today, over 700 individuals are living in the Municipality’s shelter system stood up in response to COVID-19. Around 400 people sleep in the Sullivan Arena each night, with more staying in non-congregate shelter locations such as hotels.
While the current model has proven effective, the Sullivan Arena and non-congregate shelter options are currently funded with temporary FEMA funds. The 100% match for these federal funds is set to expire September 30, 2021.
“Emergency shelter has saved lives over this past year,” said Bob Doehl, Incident Commander of the Emergency Operations Center, which has led Anchorage’s emergency mass care shelter efforts. “But without a long-term plan based on more sustainable funding sources, Anchorage is poised to see a mass influx of people experiencing homelessness on our streets and greenbelts this fall.”
To avoid this outcome, the Municipality has formed a plan to transition 415 people out of the mass care shelter sites by August 31, 2021:
• House 75 people via Housing First Case Management contract, which will bring on 12 new case managers
• House 75 people via existing case management resources
• Shelter 90 people in existing locations, including nonprofit shelters (as reduced need for physical distancing allows increased capacity), Assisted Living Homes, or hotels until case management resources can support a transition into housing
• Shelter 125 people at a new facility and help these individuals out of homelessness by connecting them to resources
• Transition 50 people to respite care
The shelter transition plan puts emphasis on solutions to move people out of shelter and into housing. Even with this emphasis on housing, it is clear that a new shelter location will be needed to avoid an influx of people experiencing visible homelessness on Anchorage’s streets and trails this fall.
To avoid this outcome, the Municipality has undergone an extensive search process to identify a location for a new shelter facility. A team led by the Chief Housing Officer reviewed every potential building that generally met the criteria for a new 125-bed shelter facility and resource hub that would connect people to services during the day. The search found the former Alaska Club building located at 630 E. Tudor Rd. to be the only realistic option.
Last summer, the Municipality had considered purchasing this building. During the due diligence process, the Municipality ultimately determined that the total cost, including purchase price, repairs, and renovations, was no longer fiscally prudent. At that point, the Municipality terminated the purchase and sale agreement.
The property owners were committed to addressing homelessness in Anchorage and came back to the Municipality with a better offer, including a lower purchase price and cost-saving opportunities for the needed repairs and renovations. The Municipality re-entered negotiations and ultimately negotiated savings of over $1.4 million compared with the original offer. The final purchase price, including closing costs, is $5.436 million.
“I can confidently say this is a good deal for the Municipality,” said Greg Cerbana, VP of Public Relations and Government Affairs at Weidner Apartment Homes. “Over the past 18 months Weidner has vetted buildings across Anchorage as we look to invest in solutions to homelessness, including this one. The price that the Municipality negotiated is favorable, and if this deal would have been offered to us, we would have closed on this building. I believe this is the only viable option for having a facility ready by fall.”
In order for the building to be ready for use this fall, the Municipality entered into a new purchase and sale agreement with the property owner at 630 E. Tudor Rd. The Municipality has not closed the transaction, and has extended the closing date to July 9, leaving the ultimate decision about whether to close on the building to the incoming Mayor.
“We’ve heard repeatedly from residents that they want to see our streets and greenbelts safe and clear, and see hockey return to the Sullivan Arena,” said Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson. “We simply will not get there without standing up a new shelter and, after almost a year of searching, it is clear that this property is not only the best location but a smart investment.”
Acting Mayor Quinn-Davidson briefed presumptive incoming Mayor Dave Bronson ahead of today’s announcement. The Mayor’s Office looks forward to collaborating with the next administration to find ways to support the return of the Sullivan Arena to its original use and to ensure hundreds of people are not left out in the cold on Anchorage’s trails and streets this fall.