Mayor wants Anchorage to buy plane tickets for homeless people to leave town

With colder months approaching, Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson said July 24 that the city likely will not use a municipally owned sports arena as a large-scale homeless shelter again this winter, and to prevent people from freezing to death on the street, his administration wants to purchase plane tickets for people who want to travel to communities within Alaska or warmer climates out of state.

“I am not going to be responsible for people freezing to death on the street. … I’m doing everything I can to keep that from happening,” Bronson said during an interview at his office in City Hall.

“We set a record this last year on how many people died unsheltered in the city. If something doesn’t happen, we’re going to beat that record this next winter. And so, with that moral impetus for me, we’re going to start giving airline tickets for people to go where they want to go,” Bronson said.

“If they want to go to a warmer climate, it’s far cheaper to give them $600 to get an airline ticket to anywhere, from San Diego, all the way to Seattle, or to Fairbanks where they’ve got family that can take them, or back to the Bush. I have no choice now.”

Bronson said that in the absence of a dedicated winter shelter, hundreds of unhoused people could be exposed to subzero temperatures this winter.

Bronson didn’t say how the city would fund a relocation program.

The Salvation Army last summer bought plane tickets for some people who were living in a campground where the Bronson administration had moved homeless residents when it closed the shelter at the Sullivan Arena.

Bronson’s homeless coordinator, Alexis Johnson, said by email that the city would like to fund and expand existing relocation programs, which reunite people with their families in Alaska and in the Lower 48.

Cities in the Lower 48 have employed similar relocation strategies, giving unhoused people free plane and bus tickets to go home to family, friends or other cities where they may have a support network.

For some, relocation programs have helped put them on a path out of homelessness. But such programs also have been highly criticized as a quick and cheap way to reduce homeless populations, without ensuring that the recipients of tickets won’t just end up on the streets elsewhere.

With more than 750 people currently living unsheltered, city officials largely agree that more shelter is needed. But they’ve frequently disagreed over specifics like size and location.

 

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