Warming tents for Anchorage’s homeless due to arrive today

On Friday — her last day as director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, Jasmine Boyle said “People are gonna freeze to death this weekend.” Boyle was speaking about Anchorage’s unhoused community, many of whom may be forced to bear below freezing temperatures forecast in Anchorage over the weekend. Temperatures across the Municipality are expected to plummet further into the single digits this week, further adding to concerns that the Bronson Administration was intent on leaving Anchorage’s most vulnerable citizens out in the cold.

The Bronson Administration would like the public to believe it has miraculously manifested deep rooted concern for the city’s unhoused community, but in reality, the administration’s actions prove otherwise and have left Anchorage residents asking, both publicly and privately, why warming tents were not set up outside the Sullivan Arena ahead of a forecast snowstorm and freezing temperatures.

A homeless individual wraps themselves in a blanket ahead of a winter storm in Anchorage, Alaska. November 10, 2021.

Sullivan Arena, the country’s largest temporary mass shelter, has been running over capacity for days now, raising some concern that homeless individuals seeking to avoid frigid cold temperatures could be left to fend for themselves on the streets.

The former operator of the Sullivan Arena maintained a trespass list containing the names of individuals not permitted to stay at the Sullivan Arena for committing various infractions at the shelter. But according to two people familiar with the list, since Shawn Hays became the shelter’s director, the trespass list has been reduced to just a few names, potentially minimizing concerns that many individuals could immediately be left out in the cold.

Compassionate warming tents which were in place under the administration of former Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson, are a life saving solution for those unable to stay at the Sullivan. Warming tents can act as an overflow for the temporary mass shelter, providing warmth and safety for those Mayor Bronson has referred to as “vagrants.”

Hays, Boyle and Meg Zaletel have advocated strongly for the warming tents. On Thursday I reached out to Zaletel about the lack of warming tents at the Sullivan Arena. In response, Zaletel said that she inquired with the city about them but had not received a response. Zaletel, who is now the Interim Executive Director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, told me today that the warming tents were scheduled to arrive at the Sullivan Arena by 11am this morning but didn’t have any information on when the tents might become operational.

Last Friday, Corey Allen Young, chief propagandist for Mayor Dave Bronson, wrote in an email to Alaska Public Media that there was no need for warming tents since everyone was still being allowed into the shelter — but again, those trespassed from the Sullivan Arena are often left on the streets and according to shelter director Shawn Hays, staff are already “squeezing people into hallways on the upper level of the arena,” reinforcing the arguments made in support of the warming tents — that they are much needed to keep people safe and alive.

It’s not clear how the over capacity Sullivan Arena is adapting to COVID mitigation strategies that still recommend 6 feet of space between individuals while sleeping. This seems a relevant question as the shelter temporarily houses a very vulnerable segment of Anchorage’s population. It was also not immediately clear how messaging about warming tents might be communicated to individuals previously trespassed at the Sullivan Arena who may be in need of warmth and safety now or in the future.

If you or someone you know is facing homelessness, the Alaska Coalition for Homelessness works with service providers and community partners to ensure that people experiencing homelessness, or at risk of becoming homeless in Anchorage, can get the help they need. Learn more on their website.