As winter approaches, the need for the municipality of Anchorage to provide shelter to the city’s disproportionately large homeless population is becoming increasingly urgent. Year after year, bodies are found frozen in the snow as the city continues to fail to provide the homeless population with shelter, let alone permanent housing.
The Sullivan Arena, which is currently both one of the nation’s largest mass homeless shelters and the city’s only homeless shelter, is being decommissioned for use as a shelter due to widespread public opposition and an increasing demand to find a real solution to the homelessness crisis in Anchorage.
Representatives from the municipal assembly and new Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration have started negotiations on a plan to move people out of the Sullivan Arena into a different temporary shelter. They have proposed 30 possible sites to be voted on at the upcoming assembly meeting on Sept. 14. Immediately thereafter, the negotiation team will recommend the creation of a more permanent mass shelter to support the municipality’s budget, which will be submitted on Oct. 1.
The primary problem with the municipality’s plan to address homelessness is its insistence on creating one massive homeless shelter to serve as a “navigation center” for needed services instead of focusing on making housing a right.
Party for Socialism and Liberation Anchorage was asked to meet with the municipality’s homeless coordinator, Dr. John Morris. The Bronson administration says it intends to increase access to mental health and substance abuse treatment by working with nonprofits and other private corporations, not through the use of municipal resources. Morris stated the city is not interested in providing more long-term, permanent housing to those experiencing homelessness, or working to make housing a human right, but only in using the navigation center as the primary means of sheltering people.
PSL Anchorage social housing proposal
PSL Anchorage has released a Social Housing proposal to address homelessness in Anchorage. Under this plan, the city would utilize the $51 million of American Rescue Plan funds that it will be receiving from the federal government by May 2022 to purchase and/or construct housing for the city’s entire homeless population. This plan would start to address the root causes of homelessness in the city, including low pay, high housing costs, and inadequate access to mental health care. The plan contains short-term and long-term phases.
In the short-term phase, from September 2021 to May 2022, the municipality would issue an emergency declaration and spend up to $22 million — the amount proposed by the Bronson administration for construction of a navigation center — to create a municipal housing voucher program, temporarily fill as many empty hotel rooms as possible, and begin to move people out of the Sullivan Arena and into permanent housing, providing mental healthcare, substance abuse treatment, and other forms of personalized assistance through the use of municipal care teams.
Under PSL’s program, the housing voucher program would be administered by the municipality and would be tasked with moving people out of the Sullivan Arena into empty apartments and hotel rooms, while fully subsidizing up to the first eight months of rent. The process of moving people out of the Sullivan Arena would require assistance from municipal care teams composed of qualified professionals including social workers, psychologists and medical professionals. The care teams would provide treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues, and assist people in finding jobs and accessing other resources.
Long term phase
The long term phase of the Social Housing program would begin once the municipality receives the second installment of American Rescue Plan funds. The $51 million received would then be used to finally put an end to the perpetual crisis of homelessness that Anchorage faces by prioritizing the creation of quality, affordable housing and making housing a human right. To accomplish this, the funds would be allocated to the creation of a municipal housing authority, which would then proceed to build 100 new housing units and purchase 1,000 already existing housing units to be heavily subsidized so that no household pays more than 20% of their monthly income in rent.
Aspects of the short term phase would continue in the long term as well. For example, the housing voucher program would continue to facilitate transition into permanent housing and would be expanded to cover three months rent for qualifying individuals, including those who are experiencing homelessness, those who have experienced homelessness within the last year, those with disabilities and major health problems, and families with a household income of $40,000 per year or less. Also, municipal care teams would continue to be employed by the city to assist people in finding jobs, healthcare, childcare, and accessing substance abuse and mental health treatment, among other things.
PSL Anchorage advocates for Social Housing as a long-term solution to address homelessness through making housing a human right. By prioritizing the creation of deeply affordable, heavily-subsidized housing managed by the municipal government, Social Housing would enable thousands of people who would otherwise be condemned to perpetual housing insecurity to achieve financial stability and be ensured access to a home for themselves and their families for years to come. The people of Anchorage cannot afford to keep enacting temporary solutions that leave people freezing to death in the woods every winter. It’s time for decisive action, and PSL will continue to educate, agitate and organize to make housing a human right.
Feature image: Sullivan Arena, biggest mass homeless shelter in the United States