Assembly awards Bean's Cafe contract to provide winter shelter, but will they accept?

(KTUU)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly approved a $444,330 contract to Bean’s Café Tuesday night to provide emergency cold weather services through this winter. It’s now up to Bean’s whether they choose to accept the contract.

Keeping people off the streets in the wintertime, and reducing public health and safety concerns related to homelessness – all with a very tight budget. That has been the trend for the Municipality of Anchorage for the past few years, defaulting to non-profits like Bean’s Café and Brother Francis Shelter to provide cold weather shelter for the city’s homeless population.

Both Bean’s Cafe and city officials say they’re reluctant to throw money at what they see as another band-aid solution to the city's homelessness crisis. But, after facing a funding shortage for homeless services in Governor Dunleavy’s line-item vetoes, the muni has been playing catch-up, waiting until the final moments to make a plan for the winter.

"Based on where we are, this is the option we have," Assembly member and Co-Chair of the Committee on Homelessness Kameron Perez-Verdia said Tuesday.

City officials agreed Friday to use budget reserves to re-stock $200,000 of winter emergency shelter funding that kept Brother Francis open through the threat of state budget cuts. According to Municipal Manager Bill Falsey, having to appropriate that funding early “ … traded a near-term problem for a later-term problem.”

That “later-term” problem became a “now problem” Tuesday night, when city officials decided whether to spend the majority of the muni's cold weather shelter budget to transform Bean's Cafe from a day-time soup kitchen into a full-time winter shelter. This is the same strategy used in previous years, according to Bean’s Café Executive Director Lisa Sauder.

Assembly members Zaletel, Constant, and Rivera asked the muni for money to reduce shelter overflow, provide additional security, and enough bathrooms for the 400 full-time shelter beds that would be open between Brother Francis and Bean's.

"I want to be sure that if we are asking people to congregate somewhere because that is where the services are, we're ensuring that we're providing services that work, and that are safe," Zaletel said.

Falsey said the muni scrounged and tightened its belt to re-stock the initial $200,000, and there’s simply nothing left to spend.

"We don't think that there is any additional dollars to be found," Falsey said.

Falsey did acknowledge the urgent need for better planning and funding so the muni can break its pattern of relying on non-profits to shoulder the city’s homeless population over future winters.

"I believe that will be a big part of our ongoing budgetary conversations as we try to find funds to rob from somewhere else in the municipality to get more fully invested in this program so that we don't have to rely on the good graces of these non-profits that have attempted to handle this for us," Falsey said.

The Bean's Café contract would open the emergency shelter from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and include a meal for each resident during that window. Bean's would use the money to purchase beds -- it would house as many as 166 people per night in extreme cold weather. They would have to hire additional staff and pay for utilities while the overnight shelter is open.

It's now in the hands of the Bean's Cafe Board of Executives whether they will agree to the contract terms.

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