By Meg Zaletel, Anchorage Midtown Assembly member. To submit editorials for consideration, contact [email protected].
There is a proposal before the Anchorage Assembly to purchase properties within the Municipality for substance misuse services, and homelessness response services. I am a co-sponsor of this proposal. Some Midtown residents question why I would co-sponsor such a measure, especially when that means bringing treatment and homelessness services to the district I represent.
Let’s start with some points of agreement. First, individuals experiencing homelessness are in Midtown. We’ve all seen them whether camping along a greenbelt, utilizing the Loussac Library or on a corner of a busy intersection. I am frequently contacted by residents asking that they not be allowed to remain there. Secondly, there is a need for substance misuse treatment in Anchorage and that the treatment need goes beyond just those experiencing homelessness. Using these two points of agreement, let’s discuss the proposal.
If we want visible homelessness end, we must provide a place for individuals to go. The most effective way to do that is to bring the services to where the individuals are located. I have spoken with many individuals experiencing homelessness in Midtown and they do not go downtown for a variety of reasons. Bringing a shelter to Midtown will be a place for people to go. Continuing to sequester services downtown will not bring about change in Midtown. Homelessness services need to be integrated into our community so that individuals can utilize public transit for jobs, access health care and look for more permanent housing.
However, simply sheltering individuals will not help them move out of homelessness. Similarly, untreated substance misuse disorder is a contributing factor for people coming into homelessness. While the proposed purchase of the Alaska Club and Golden Lion are not connected, their functions are complimentary and part of an overall strategy to create the change Midtown has been asking for.
I’ll admit that Anchorage has historically had, at best, mixed results with shelter locations and their impacts on neighborhoods. But we have learned from the past mistakes and created a new paradigm for shelter – how it should look, feel and interact with neighborhoods. Since the COVID-19 emergency, these changes have been piloted on a large scale at the Sullivan Arena and also with our current shelter providers with positive results, housing over 375 individuals and families.
However, let’s not conflate concerns about shelters with treatment. Initially this happened and it is unfortunate, but, there are many successful models for residential treatment of substance misuse that coexists peaceably with surrounding neighborhoods in Midtown. Those centers also serve clientele that were previously homeless. I expect nothing different from the proposed treatment site.
With the purchase of these two Midtown properties (and the others) we can rapidly make a substantial investment in getting the resources in place to tackle homelessness and substance misuse in the Municipality. You’ve asked for change and here is a plan. It is a good plan, if viewed critically with an eye toward an overall strategy not just location. Anchorage should not miss this opportunity to make the change so many Midtown residents have asked for.