Opposition to Housing For Mentally Ill in West Anchorage
Proposal by mental health officials clashes with neighborhood leaders
ANCHORAGE - It's being proposed as part of the solution to Anchorage's homeless problem: turning the Long House hotel in West Anchorage into long-term housing for homeless people with mental illness.
But some members of the community say they don't want it to go forward.
But despite the conflict, the program is moving forward. And area residents have said they’re being left in the dark. “I don't feel like we've been provided enough information on to how this would really be operated if it did become a housing facility,” Gleason said. “The public process has been very scattered.”
The hotel’s owner, Terry Latham, said he wants to sell the hotel in a way that helps the community, which is why the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and Anchorage Mental Health Services Inc. wants to buy it.
With room for nearly 50 residents, and bus access to Downtown and Providence Medical Center, the trust says the hotel is in an ideal location for a supported housing option similar to Fairview’s Karluk Manor.
“The reason we're doing housing like this for certain populations is so that there can be staff on site, in programs, so we can monitor, support and ask questions,” said Nancy Burke, the AMHTA program officer. She explained that “supported housing” means a place for qualified and screened applicants to stay, supervised 24 hours a day by “staff members who are trained to recognize when someone is going into crisis and who can respond immediately.”
But Gleason isn't convinced. Housing homeless people with what’s described by AMHTA as “severe mentally illness” is not something she says is “appropriate” for the neighborhood.
“There's a daycare center, just up the block, there's a lot of kids that live in this area, the residents will be free to come and go,” she said. People in her community “are just questioning the wisdom of putting something like that, at this location.
“They're just not sure this is an appropriate location for that level of housing under one roof.”
Other community members say they need more information, more public meetings, and tours of facilities like Karluk if they’re going to support it. Jim Bowers is the president of the Spenard Community Council. “We're trying to work with [the AMHTA and the AMHS], we're tying to understand, we're trying to be supportive,” he said. But the plan is moving forward faster than the communication with the community can take place. “The difference in speeds just doesn't mesh well, that makes it really hard for me to go to my community to say, ‘here's something we should support.’”
Burke said this is a conversation that needs to take place across the city. “You know, I live in Anchorage,” she said. “And I believe we should all be involved in discussing how we're going to take care of our own." She said the trust plans to engage more members of the community thorough outreach and education.