ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic has helped streamline the way services are provided to people experiencing homelessness in Alaska’s largest city, advocates said.

Emergency mass shelters established at two Anchorage arenas provided central points for assistance, Alaska Public Media reported Wednesday.

The city-owned Ben Boeke Ice Arena and Sullivan Arena next door opened as shelters for homeless residents March 22. The city plans to close the Boeke shelter this week. The contract with Sullivan Arena lasts through July and some hope to extend it.

Workers in about a dozen tents in the parking lot outside the arenas helped direct people in need to service providers offering assistance with housing, jobs and obtaining identification.

“In crisis, there’s a really awesome opportunity to make some fundamental changes,” said Katelyn Sheehan, who works at the arena shelters.

People experiencing homelessness often move around the city to different providers while carrying their possessions, while the emergency shelters removed that need.


“As our clients come into shelter, they are assessed by the navigation team, and we do a rapid intake form that plugs directly into our homeless management information system,” Sheehan said.

The Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness reported 97 people transitioned from homeless to housed in April, up from 73 in March.

The city recently issued request-for-proposals with $180,000 in funding to start an outreach campaign to get individuals off the street and into shelters.

Some Anchorage Assembly members want to ease the concentration of homelessness by building multiple shelters, each with its own resource hub.

The city is considering revising some zoning requirements to allow shelter construction where it is needed.

Assemblywoman Meg Zaletel said the experience at Sullivan Arena serves as evidence that distributed resource centers help advocates and service providers assist the homeless and “work with them through the shelter system to ladder out of homelessness,” she 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 vast majority of people recover.