On July 10, 25 Anchorage activists marched and rallied to “Say No To Bronsonville” and demand housing for all in response to the newly elected Mayor David Bronson administration’s plan to build a mass homeless shelter on the east side of the city. The protest was organized by Party for Socialism and Liberation – Anchorage, Stand Up Alaska and Indivisible Anchorage.
This “navigation center” proposed by the Bronson administration would be the municipality’s first effort to intervene in the sheltering of Anchorage’s disproportionately large homeless population.
However, due to the city’s failure to adequately house and provide resources for those who would be sheltering there, PSL Anchorage demands an alternative solution that would make housing a human right. PSL members led chants of “Fight! Fight! Fight! Housing is a human right!”, and “Mass shelters no more, it’s not a crime to be poor!” at the rally, advocating for sheltering unhoused people in empty apartments and hotel rooms.
Homelessness crisis in Anchorage
Anchorage, like many cities across the West Coast, has had an increasingly severe crisis of homelessness for the last decade, yet there has been little effort to address it until now. With a population of around 1,100 homeless people in a city of 300,000, Anchorage’s homelessness rate is higher than Portland, Las Vegas, and San Diego. Despite this, before COVID-19 caused Bean’s Cafe and Brother Francis — the only two non-profit run homeless shelters in the city — to shut down due to an unsanitary level of overcrowding, the city largely ignored the homelessness crisis.
Then in March of 2020, with no immediate solutions, the city began to use Sullivan Arena as one massive homeless shelter, housing up to 400 people at the same time. However, the Sullivan Arena will be decommissioned for use as a mass shelter in September to make way for hockey season, and the city of Anchorage must again consider how to address the crisis before the homeless population of 1,100 is left out on the streets in the life-threatening winter cold.
Bronson’s proposed “navigation center” shares at least one thing in common with Anchorage’s previous responses to homelessness, as well as with the Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward, and that is the fact that it will attempt to localize and detain a population to one area. Whereas, Bean’s Cafe and Brother Francis were both located on 3rd Avenue, and Sullivan Arena in Fairview — relatively close to downtown — the navigation center would be placed on a large wooded lot currently owned by the Anchorage Police Department on the East Side.
This “navigation center” would be the first homeless shelter owned by the city and is intended to house hundreds of people. However, because of the size and localized position of this mass shelter, it is likely to lead to the same problems of overcrowding and, as currently proposed, will be inadequate shelter that does not allow its inhabitants to have their basic needs met. Bronson has also suggested that the “navigation center” be heavily policed, which is a further deterrent to the parts of the homeless population who would rather not live in a shelter to begin with, and a step towards increasing punitive action against the homeless population.
A people’s program to make housing a right
Instead, PSL Anchorage demands that the city must take steps to fill its vacant apartments and hotel rooms with those who are in need of housing, whether temporary or long term. Housing for all would allow unhoused people to take steps to steadily improve their lives by having a greater degree of personal choice, a place to store their belongings, and dignified access to hygiene, including laundry and showers. From there, the city must work to assist homeless people in other ways as needed, beginning first and foremost by providing the unhoused with doors that lock and a roof over their head.
The people of Anchorage are in a position to introduce the idea of housing as a human right as a viable solution to the homelessness crisis in the city. Bringing together over two dozen people to demand an alternative to the plan proposed by the Bronson administration is only a start.
PSL Anchorage is working to raise public support for social housing through educating the community, collaborating with other groups, and demonstrating against policies that criminalize and dismiss the unhoused. The fight continues on the municipal level through participation in meetings and dialogue with policy makers in the assembly, as well as through support for housing as a human right at public hearings. PSL Anchorage is offering a solution for the community to end the homelessness crisis, and will continue putting pressure on elected officials through future rallies and protests in favor of housing for all.