ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska’s largest entertainment venue is likely to continue operating as a mass shelter for the Anchorage homeless population into 2021, an official said.
Mayoral Chief of Staff Jason Bockenstedt says Sullivan Arena will be used to accommodate homeless residents during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic unless alternatives emerge, The Anchorage Daily News reported Thursday.
The neighboring Ben Boeke Ice Arena, which served as a mass shelter for women, couples and LGBTQ residents from March to June, is also expected to reopen as a shelter.
Bockenstedt told the Anchorage Assembly Committee on Homelessness Wednesday that the city lacks 398 shelter beds because of pandemic spacing requirements.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) between beds or mats.
Sullivan Arena began serving as a shelter in March to make up for a lack of space under the new guidelines at the crowded Brother Francis and Bean’s Café shelters.
The arena has operated near or at capacity throughout August, with an average of 339 people staying there every day.
The city is trying to find more permanent housing arrangements as the fall approaches, including buying three buildings for homeless services and transitional housing.
The purchase approved by the Anchorage Assembly Aug. 11 is on hold as the city responds to questions from the U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Inspector General.
Anchorage’s use of $12.5 million in federal coronavirus recovery money to buy the properties may be outside the fund’s intended scope, the office said.
If the purchase is postponed, the city may be forced to continue using the Sullivan and Ben Boeke arenas, Bockenstedt said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.