Anchorage city officials vote to extend emergency declaration

A special Committee on Homelessness meeting on July 26 to determine how to move forward after Mayor Ethan Berkowitz declared a civil emergency. (KTUU)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - City officials voted to extend Mayor Ethan Berkowitz's emergency declaration through to August 6. This will allow the Brother Francis Shelter to remain open at full capacity, avoiding a temporary shutdown.

The administration met with the Anchorage Assembly Committee on Homelessness at City Hall. They have proposed three different options on how to handle the impacts they say will result from the temporary closure of Brother Francis Shelter:

1. Do nothing -- the city expects this option would cost the most money in the long-term;
2. Mobilize the city's Emergency Operations Center -- this option is intended for short-term use only;
3. Fund capacity at Brother Francis Shelter -- this would keep 240 beds open and limit the number of people spilling onto the streets.

Ona Brause, Mayor Berkowitz's chief of staff, says option three would be the most cost-effective way to move forward. It would require $400,000 to make up the budget shortfall at Brother Francis Shelter.

"If the existing funding shortfall is reinstated, the Brother Francis Shelter would reverse course and be able to stay open... that is the lowest-impact course of action to the community," Brause said.

Municipal Manager Bill Falsey says option three would require pulling money from the existing municipal budget. He says the city is trying to use money already appropriated in the budget. They've already accounted for over $200,000, and extending the declaration allows the city to negotiate potential alternate funding sources with Brother Francis. The emergency declaration authorizes the citY to raise the tax cap to fund the difference, if necessary.

"The decision points are difficult, and I think would bear a different conversation if we weren't in the emergency situation that we are in," Brause said. "But the delay out of Juneau and the state budget impasse has put us in this position, and we have to decide what we're going to do for our community members."

Berkowitz echoed Brause's concerns.

"We have arrived at a place where some of the chronic stresses that this community faces have been pushed into an acute shock," he said, "and we have the responsibility to protect the public health and public safety of all members of the community."

Many Anchorage residents showed up to testify at Friday's meeting. Channel 2 spoke with people both for and against potentially raising the tax cap to fund capacity at Brother Francis, including Tim Weeks, a business owner in downtown Anchorage.

"I hear a lot about people wanting money, with no long-term solutions," Weeks said. "I understand it's about the homeless, and we want to do our part, but I also understand there's a lot of property owners down there who are affected by this too."

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