The resignation of Dr. John Morris, a local anesthesiologist turned Bronson administration homelessness coordinator, wasn’t all that surprising to those involved in the negotiations between the administration. Rumors have swirled in recent weeks that his departure was potentially imminent.
When Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance called on Morris to speak during yesterday’s TEAMS meeting on Mass Care at the Sullivan Arena, she was met with awkward silence. She quickly realized Morris, who had scheduled the meeting, was not present.
It is noteworthy that Bronson Administration officials at the TEAMs meeting appeared blindsided by the news. Chief of Staff Sami Graham told LaFrance that she would attempt to find out where Morris was. Morris’ departure first became known when Assembly Member Jamie Allard stated he had resigned on Monday. Later in the meeting, Anchorage Health Department Acting Director Joe Gerace said that he had emailed Dr. Morris that morning and that he was not aware of his resignation.
Alaska Public Media confirmed with Dr. Morris that he had resigned Monday but he did not give a reason for his departure.
Morris’ departure, while interesting, shouldn’t be seen as the main story. The Municipality has a potential crisis unfolding in addition to the numerous other problems said to be occurring at the Sullivan Arena.
In June, Jasmine Boyle, executive director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness (ACEH), told me that the number of homeless individuals increased in the Municipality during 2020. Boyle ascribed some of that increase to hardships caused by the Coronavirus pandemic and said that Anchorage could face a situation where roughly 1,000 vulnerable residents would need shelter in the winter months.
“Being able to house a thousand people is a big goal but one built out of necessity,” said Boyle in June. When asked yesterday whether she stood by her assertion that the Municipality would need shelter for 1,000 individuals this winter, Boyle said that she does.
“We already know that mass care [Sullivan and non-congregate locations] is hitting around 850 individuals the last I heard. When you add non-mass care shelters, including youth and families, we’re skirting a thousand,” Boyle said.
Four months later, families experiencing homelessness in Anchorage still do not have a clear path to winter emergency shelter or housing. ACEH says the problem requires immediate coordination from the Municipality of Anchorage or the allocation of funding to service providers for the safety of children and their guardians, along with a permanent plan to ensure there are adequate resources and connections to housing.
Sullivan is an adult low barrier service at this time, meaning that ideally, there are minimal barriers to entry because the site is for people who cannot access other locations that do have more rigorous criteria but it is never recommended to have children in the same shelter location as adults, which is why ACEH does not believe the Sullivan Arena to be an adequate sheltering place for unhoused families.
A memo issued by ACEH lays out steps the non-profit believes are immediately needed to address the lack of winter shelter for families experiencing homelessness. ACEH’s memo has been endorsed by AWAIC, Catholic Social Services, RurAL CAP, Christian Health Associates, Anchorage School District, The Salvation Army and United Way of Anchorage.
Emergency Cold Weather Shelter for Families Memo:
Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness
While homeless families and the organizations who serve them wait for the Bronson Administration to take meaningful action and enact a viable Cold Weather Shelter plan, Catholic Social Services via Clare House, Rural CAP Safe Harbor and Salvation Army McKinnell House are actively seeking ways to to help accommodate unhoused families as they express need by opening additional floors and rooms while aiming to provide COVID safe care for families. AWAIC and United Way are lending as much assistance as possible to help navigate families to suitable sheltering locations. Boyle says it’s possible that the city could provide additional rooms for unhoused families as early as next week.
Now, with Morris and Bronson’s director of policy programs Craig Campbell both out, contractor Larry Baker and a lot of questions are all that remains of the Bronson homeless plan negotiation team. Who will step in for the administration? What is their ultimate goal? When will a plan be finalized?
As eyes focus on the departure of Dr. Morris, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s at stake in the upcoming months — freezing temperatures, brutal winter storms and lack of a plan needed to help ensure that Anchorage’s most vulnerable families are provided for as winter looms.
If you or someone you know is facing homelessness, the Alaska Coalition for Homelessness works with service providers and community partners to ensure that people experiencing homelessness, or at risk of becoming homeless in Anchorage, can get the help they need. Learn more on their website.