Wed, 06 Dec 2023

ANCHORAGE, Alaska: Anchorage is struggling to find housing options for more than 3,000 homeless residents, as the city's mass shelter in a sports arena closed after neighbors complained about bad behavior.

In addition, hopes for a new permanent shelter and navigation center have been killed off by conflicts between the city's liberal Assembly and conservative mayor Dave Bronson.

While city officials, who estimate they still need to find up to 450 beds for winter, said that they would have enough emergency housing ready, those living on the streets are less confident.

"A lot of people are going to freeze," said Scott Gibson, who is preparing to spend his second Alaska winter outside. "I have nothing," he added.

In winter, temperatures can plunge to -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 degrees Celsius) in Anchorage.

Alexis Johnson, the city's homeless director, said, last winter there were 24 deaths outdoors among the homeless population, with 11 fatalities occurring in the winter months between October 2022 and April 2023.

Johnson added that Alaska's biggest city has some 3,150 homeless individuals and enough room in shelters for all but some 775 people.

He hopes to rent hotel rooms to limit the capacity of a mass winter homeless shelter to no more than 150 people, one of the Assembly's stipulations for releasing emergency funds.

The city wants to use a recently vacated administration building as a makeshift low-barrier shelter, Johnson added.

With a population of 300,000, Anchorage is home to 40 percent of the state's population but 65 percent of Alaska's homeless population, Bronson said, adding that the city has spent US$161 million on the homeless crisis since 2020.

However, commenting on the money spent by the city, Greg Smith, a homeless resident, said, "What do we have to show for it? Nothing."

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