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HomeAlaska IssuesMayor Berkowitz, the Anchorage Assembly Prepare to Seize CARES Funding

Mayor Berkowitz, the Anchorage Assembly Prepare to Seize CARES Funding

Mayor Berkowitz, the Anchorage Assembly Prepare to Seize CARES Funding

There is a proposal before the Anchorage Assembly to purchase properties within the Municipality for substance addiction services, and homelessness response services. Midtown Assembly Member Meg Zalatel is a co-sponsor of this, a supporter despite opposition by residents and business owners of Midtown who are adamantly opposed.  Worse, they plan on using CARES Act funds intended for small businesses damaged by the COVID 19 inspired shutdown.

There is so much wrong with this proposal that I scarcely know where to begin.  But just for discussion’s sake, how about a small list:

Zalatel admits there is no current proposal or plan for treatment of the homeless once they purchase the properties, but they need to hurry up and purchase at least four different properties around town just in case they figure out what they want to do.  Why the rush?  Is it because they fear outraged business and property owners may go to court to stop them?  Is it because they fear being stopped from misappropriating federal funds?  Any explanation would be better than the one we have today, which is none.

If the Mayor and his Assembly need a place to house the homeless, perhaps erecting a controlled temporary treatment center on the former grounds of the Alaska Native Health Center off E 3rd Avenue would be a great place to start.  The property is fenced and just to the west of Brother Francis Shelter and Bean’s Café.  I expect there are temporary structures available for rent from ASD and oilfield service companies.  If course, going this direction would not blow up Midtown or other neighborhoods this Assembly and Mayor are targeting.

Something smells fishy with this, slamming this ordinance through the system while everyone is out of town chasing salmon, something this Assembly and Mayor have raised to an artform.  Perhaps it is time for a formal public process or even a new Assembly and Mayor. 

I sent the following to Testimony@anchorageak.gov on Tuesday, July 14. 

Subject: CARES money for purchasing properties for homeless – AO 2020-66

Howdy –

I understand you guys are contemplating the use of CARES funds to purchase buildings in Midtown and other locations in town.  I thought the CARES money was specifically directed toward things broken during the shutdowns, generally making small businesses whole.  As I understand it, CARES legislation specifically does not allow its money to be used for things that existed before the pandemic, which is most certainly our homeless problem.  Does the Congressional Delegation know what you guys are doing?  How about the Governor or Legislature?  From here, this appears to be an illegal diversion of federal monies.  Please explain. 

Worse, from the perspective of bar and restaurant owners, who have undergone a triple whammy from the Mayor and Assembly – alcohol tax, shutdown, limited reopening / public shaming – you are removing federal monies intended to help them survive and spending them elsewhere.  From here, it looks like you guys are targeting these businesses for destruction.

I also understand that Midtown residents are up in arms over this, as they most certainly ought to be.  Bringing the homeless into the Sullivan and Ben Boeke didn’t seem to do anything except trash that part of town and make that stretch of Ingra and Gambell much more dangerous to drive, not to mention the greenbelt along Chester Creek more dangerous to walk.  And you’re bringing the homeless problem into a residential part of town? 

If you guys want a treatment location for these people, I strongly recommend you consider the former site of the Native Health Center on E 3rd Ave just west of Bean’s & Brother Francis.  It’s still fenced, so you can at least control the population flow a bit.  Set up a temporary operation. Temporary buildings are likely available from ASD or some of the oilfield service companies.  Might even be able to score some from Ravn Air in their bankruptcy sale. 

I continue to point out the abject failure of other cities, most notably San Francisco, who has tried to house homeless in local hotel rooms.  It sure looks like you guys are well on your way to replicating that failure.  Didn’t we already try this with conversion of the Red Roof Inn into housing for inebriates a decade or so ago?

I think this is a big mistake, once again sneaking through while everyone else is out of town fishing or in town gardening.  Not a good look, guys.  I’d strongly reconsider supporting this ordinance.  Cheers –

John Weddleton responded to a similar e-mail the previous day.  He expressed concern about the homeless problem and had the following response to my concerns of illegal diversion of CARES funding:

This proposal to buy the properties has created a lot of confusion unfortunately.   These purchases will have no debt.  The operating costs will be covered by many sources but the alcohol tax passed this year is specifically allocated for this kind of thing.  The CARES Act funds are also for maintaining things that we had to do to deal with C-19.  We had to shelter hundreds of homeless who could not fit in the non-profits’ shelters due to CDC guidelines.  There will be a reallocation of tax revenue when these come off the roles.  It’s not an amount that anyone will notice on their tax bill but it is the wrong direction.

Austin Quinn-Davidson also responded the afternoon of July 14.  She did not address illegal diversion of CARES funding, focusing instead on the seriousness of the homeless problem here in Anchorage.  The closest she got to CARES funding was the following:

Homelessness is a complex issue that cities across the country are grappling with, but with CARES Act capital funding available, we now have the opportunity to make a real, lasting change and do what Anchorage residents have been asking us to do for years – get those experiencing homelessness off the streets for good and connected to the services they need.

Kameron Perez-Verdia also responded on July 15, mostly to thank me for my interest.  This is the entire response:

Thank you for taking the time to write to me about these purchases. I’ve really appreciated hearing from Anchorage residents about their concerns and their ideas about how to best combat homelessness in our city.

Alex Gimarc lives in Anchorage since retiring from the military in 1997. His interests include science and technology, environment, energy, economics, military affairs, fishing and disabilities policies. His weekly column “Interesting Items” is a summary of news stories with substantive Alaska-themed topics. He was a small business owner and Information Technology professional.

Mayor Berkowitz, the Anchorage Assembly Prepare to Seize CARES Funding


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