North Anchorage Assembly candidates lay out positions on addressing homelessness

Five candidates vying for the new North Anchorage Assembly seat discussed their different — and sometimes similar — ideas for tackling homelessness and other key issues at a candidates’ forum ahead of the special municipal election of June 21.

The five candidates who attended Monday’s Anchorage Chamber of Commerce Assembly District 1 Candidates Forum — Robyn Forbes, Tasha Hotch, Robin Phillips, Stephanie Taylor and Daniel Volland — come from a wide range of backgrounds. views and political experiences. (Candidate Cliff Baker was not present.) They are vying for the newly opened 12th Assembly seat, which voters approved in 2020 and will be filled in special elections later this month.

Although each candidate agreed that the city should prioritize ending homelessness, several criticized elements of his current approach.

Volland, an optometrist, small-business owner and vice-chairman of the South Addition Community Council, said the Assembly and Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration had made progress during a nearly year-long negotiation on a homelessness plan. Still, it feels like the city has taken “two steps forward and one step back,” he said.

City is accelerating a plan to build a 150-bed shelter and navigation center in East Anchorage, among several other projects, as it winds down COVID-era emergency mass care operations -19.

Volland said that while he is pleased the East Anchorage shelter has been reduced in size from a much larger proposal and that the focus of the facility will be to connect people to vital services, he is also concerned about the lack of details regarding his costs and operations. He also said he didn’t want to see another large-scale shelter like Sullivan Arena and wanted to prioritize adding more housing capacity and smaller shelters to Anchorage.

“I truly believe that stable housing leads to many other positive health outcomes,” he said.

Volland also expressed concern about the impact of the impending closure of the mass shelter Sullivan Arena on June 30. The city has hosted hundreds of people in the arena every night since the pandemic began.

“Where are these people going to go? We don’t have the capacity to host, housing, at this time. Our nonprofits are going to be full,” he said.

[North Anchorage voters are receiving ballots to elect the district’s 2nd Assembly member]

Taylor, a political ally of the mayor, said under his leadership the city is “finally moving forward with possible solutions, but we still have a long way to go.”

“We hear a lot about compassion. But the conversation rarely includes a measure of responsibility. We need to have more compassion for the law-abiding, tax-paying citizens and businesses of Anchorage who are negatively impacted by homelessness issues,” she said.

The city should model its efforts on nonprofits and programs in other places that have had proven, measurable success and “have found a way to actually change people’s lives and not just keep them going.” their dysfunctional cycles,” Taylor said.

The city needs more treatment facilities, she said.

“With the amount of money that has been and is being spent, we shouldn’t settle for anything less than real results,” Taylor said.

Phillips, executive director of the Ted Stevens Foundation, said she believes a collaborative approach to addressing homelessness is needed in Anchorage, between the city, nonprofits, businesses and residents, so to provide individuals with all the services they need to “move forward”. in a healthy way. »

“A mega-shelter is not the solution, but smaller locations all over town, so everyone feels like they have part of the solution, would be a good choice,” she said. . “…Anchorage doesn’t need to see what other cities are doing. Anchorage should lead the way and we should do that by coming together and finding the combination of a safe place, mental health, organizations that can help with addiction, that can help with jobs, that can help with housing, who can help with childcare – all together.

Hotch, who is program manager at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and former vice president of the Central Council of Alaskan Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes, said she believes the city is addressing homelessness with the right initiatives. , but did not implement them. in the way that will best help you.

Hotch said she recently spoke with a former co-worker who lived at Sullivan Arena and while he received help finding more stable housing, that help is temporary and should only last a year. , she said.

“I think our constant shuffling of people who need housing – that they only have it for 30 days for this short-term shelter – is not right. No one feels secure enough in their ability to move forward with finding a job or making plans when you’re worried about where you’re going to sleep and whether you’re going to be safe while you sleep,” he said. she declared.

Forbes, a small local entrepreneur, said he believes Anchorage is “at a tipping point” and “everything really should be on deck” because the safety of Anchorage’s streets, parks, trails and the wildfire danger of homeless camps are all at stake.

Forbes said he believed the Assembly had not prioritized homelessness efforts and instead “focused on political games”. However, he said Assemblyman Felix Rivera’s work in negotiating a plan with the Bronson administration to bring the East Anchorage Navigation Center and Shelter online stands out as a positive example. collaboration and forward momentum.

“The navigation center is critical because it’s going to come in and be a triage point,” Forbes said. “Every individual is different, whether it’s their issues, their strengths, their weaknesses, their goals – a navigation center is going to give us the ability to put those people in the right place for help. .”

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