Assembly wants more emergency shelter beds for Anchorage's homeless

Two men walk out of the Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission in the wintertime, 2018. (KTUU)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - It's the latest discussion in Anchorage’s fight to end homelessness -- the Anchorage Assembly is looking to update its Cold Weather Plan that provides emergency shelter when the temperature drops below 45 degrees.

The plan has been in effect since 2012. It enables “approved churches to act as shelters for families, and Catholic Social Services to operate an overflow for individuals at Beans Café.”

It expired on June 1, and assembly members voted to extend the plan through to Sept. 1, 2019. Assembly member Christopher Constant says this buys time for the city to come up with a new plan — ideally to provide temporary emergency shelter options year-round.

"It provides us with an opportunity to look closely at that section of code, and contemplate how we can make the shelter services provision healthier, safer, cleaner,” he said, “... better for the community and neighbors around it; and better for the individuals who are in there, and better for the operators."

There are 445 temporary emergency shelter beds in Anchorage, according to the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness. Between Sept. 2018 and March 2019, an average of 408 people utilized those beds per month. That shows emergency shelters are already operating close to capacity.

Constant says as the city abates more homeless camps throughout the summer, those people will need shelter beds to keep them off the streets.

“The conundrum we’re facing is you can’t abate the camps unless you have a place to send people,” he said. “This is all in service to ramping up a more comprehensive system that allows us to, as immediately as possible, abate encampments in a humane manner -- that we have a place to send people so they can sleep and have their basic needs met.”

One idea, Constant says, is for the city to fund more beds to increase capacity at these temporary emergency shelters.

The Committee on Homelessness will meet at City Hall July 17 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. to discuss options for revising the city’s emergency shelter plan.

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