Private company to take over operations of largest Anchorage shelter

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Cots stretched out on the floor of the Sullivan Arena on Tuesday, February 2, 2021. Shelter officials found that even with a few cases of COVID-19, nearby cots were not infected. (Lex Treinen / Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage’s largest homeless shelter will have a new operator starting Thursday, but city officials say there will be no disruption to services for the 400 people who stay there each night.

Mayor Dave Bronson announced on Sunday that he has awarded 99 Plus 1, a newly formed private company, the contract to operate the Sullivan Arena shelter for the next six months.

Nonprofits, including Catholic Social Service and Bean’s Cafe, have run homeless services in Anchorage for decades. Bronson’s choice of a private company represents a rapid shift towards a different approach to shelter operations.

99 Plus 1 will take over the work of Bean’s Cafe, longtime operator of Anchorage’s largest soup kitchen. 99 Plus 1 was formed last September, according to state records. He previously provided transportation for guests to the Sullivan Shelter and operated several of the city’s non-collective shelters.

The city’s purchasing department released a document in August seeking an operator for the Sullivan Arena shelter. This required the new operator to have at least three years of experience providing services to the homeless.

Bob Doehl, director of city development services, said the experience requirement was just one thing a selection committee considered when analyzing the six tender proposals.

“It’s not just a yes or a no,” he said.

Assembly member Meg Zaletel agreed.

“It is not an inexperienced entity, unlike, I think, the reports there,” she said. “They have been providing services to mass care facilities in hotels that have not been clustered for quite some time. “

Zaletel said she was confident in the selection process and that 99 Plus 1’s status as a for-profit company was not an issue due to strict federal rules governing the work.

“This contract is guided by the very specific elements of what FEMA will reimburse. So I think the profit status of the business doesn’t come into play here at all, ”she said.

The first challenge for the company will be recruitment.

99 Plus 1 will need to maintain the shelter staff at 30 to 1 in order to provide the same number of beds. The number of people seeking shelter tends to increase as temperatures drop, which they are expected to do in the coming weeks. But the Sullivan is already running near full capacity, according to city data. New operators only have a few days to finalize their staffing plan before going into operation.

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Bean’s sent a letter to staff on Friday laying off 77 of its employees.

99 Plus 1 is trying to recruit some of these workers.

Doehl said he met with company officials on Monday. He said that despite the statewide labor shortage, he was confident the company would be able to recruit the necessary staff.

On Monday, 99 Plus 1 employees were at Sullivan to submit nominations, and Doehl said many Bean employees have expressed interest.

“I have met 99 Plus One, they are confident they can get it back on the 16th,” he said.

Doehl said details of the contract had not been finalized but would be available “shortly”. The new contract with 99 Plus 1 runs until March 31, 2022, with an option for six one-month extensions.

Doehl said the committee that evaluated the offerings rated direct experience as a factor in five, including referrals, experience with HMIS – software to track who accesses homeless services – and the experience of the people who run the company.

Managers at 99 Plus 1 did not respond to interview requests in time for this story.

The company is owned by Theresa Pisa and was established on September 14 of last year. He has operated some of the city’s other non-collective shelters over the past year, and Doehl said company officials have experience operating other shelters. Among them was Jason Cates, director of 99 Plus 1, who Doehl said had a decade of experience in shelters and as a local practitioner with a background in mental health.

“The cadre there really came from the Anchorage Community Safety Patrol program and ran the Anchorage Safety Center,” Doehl said.

Lisa Sauder, executive director of Bean’s Cafe, said she was proud of the work the Bean’s have done over the past year and a half in setting up the Sullivan Refuge. She said Bean’s would continue to serve Anchorage as best it could.

Bean’s Cafe had operated the Sullivan mass-care shelter as a sole source since its inception in March 2020, when the pandemic began. This contract was due to expire on September 15 after several extensions.

The city estimated that it costs around $ 1 million per month to operate. Costs are fully reimbursed by FEMA under the Federal Disaster Declaration.

The city could pay 99 Plus 1 up to $ 2.4 million until March to operate the shelter, not including food services, according to a letter sent to Assembly members.

Meanwhile, city officials hope to get people out of the Sullivan Arena as soon as possible, but are mired in a dispute with the Coven over where they should go.

The Bronson administration lobbied for a mass shelter in East Anchorage, but Assembly members opposed it because its costs were unclear and its design may not be able to handle the tremors of dirt or a lot of snow.

A group of Anchorage Assembly members and representatives of the Bronson administration tried to narrow down new shelter options, including the mayor’s proposal.

But those talks reached a tense point last week following a message from the mayor on Twitter after the group said they were unlikely to find another shelter site until spring.

In a Twitter post, Bronson asked residents to contact Coven members and “let them know that you expect them to step up their efforts.”

RELATED: Anchorage task force narrows potential shelter sites to 7

After the mayor’s tweet, downtown MP Chris Constant spoke to reporters outside City Hall on Friday and questioned whether the mayor’s team was working in good faith.

“Until the mayor’s little Tweet – which he just couldn’t help but think – I thought we had a very good working relationship established between him, his team and us, this delegation working on behalf of the Assembly.” , Constant said. “At this point there are a lot of questions.

Editor: This story has been updated with new information and to clarify that the new operator will resume the Sullivan Thursday, not Wednesday.



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