Alaska Faces Homeless Crisis As Winter Sets In

Homelessness and a shortage of affordable housing have been a problem in Anchorage, Alaska. Even though Mayor Dave Bronson offered to pay for one-way plane tickets for anyone who wanted to leave before winter, the city is now scrambling to locate places to live for more than 3,000 people without a place to call home. Hopes for a new permanent shelter and navigation center were dashed when the city’s liberal Assembly and conservative mayor argued, leading to the closure of the city’s mass shelter in a sports arena.

The Anchorage Assembly has authorized $4 million in funding, and further components of an emergency plan will be put to a vote next week. Up to 450 additional winter beds, according to city officials. Although they are confident in having sufficient emergency housing available, the general public’s outlook is bleak.

Anchorage can experience cold snaps with temperatures in the minus 20s Fahrenheit (minus 29s Celsius) for multiple days due to the powerful winds that blow from Cook Inlet. According to Anchorage’s homeless director, Alexis Johnson, 24 people died outside last winter. Eleven of the deaths occurred between October 2022 and April 2023. The city has recently purchased four new apartment complexes, increasing its capacity to house people by 310. Nonetheless, they still need 400–450 more winter shelter beds.

One of the requirements of the Assembly for the allocation of emergency money is that Johnson limits the capacity of a mass winter homeless shelter to a maximum of 150 individuals by renting hotel rooms. A recently abandoned city administration building will be converted into a short-term, barrier-free shelter.

Anchorage Affordable & Housing Land Trust was awarded $1.3 million from the assembly, stipulating that it raise matching funds to restore vacant and abandoned buildings and create 40 new housing units. In April, they will start moving people out of winter shelters.

Assemblymember Felix Rivera argued for a more all-encompassing approach that would pave the way for people to move on to more permanent accommodation sooner rather than later. Since April 1st marks the end of Alaska’s construction season, a lot of work must be done before next winter’s demand for emergency housing can be avoided.