Christ salvation

Salvation Army to manage operations of Centennial Campground for homeless Anchorage residents

The Salvation Army will provide ‘on-site management of client care’ at the Centennial Campground, where about 200 unprotected Anchorage residents now live after Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration began directing and transporting the people at the end of last month.

The administration announced the change in a written statement Tuesday morning and said it was an “effort to facilitate streamlined coordination and communication.” The Salvation Army also confirmed the upcoming operation at the campground on Tuesday.

“Over the next 48 hours, The Salvation Army will begin working with current stakeholders to seamlessly integrate the many services offered there, including meals, case management, donations, supplies, and more. .,” the mayor’s office said.

The administration abruptly turned the city’s campground into a free, sanctioned site for the homeless, directing and transporting homeless people there from illegal camps and the former Sullivan Arena mass shelter, which it closed at the end of June. But the mayor’s office disputed that Centennial was part of the city’s response to homelessness and did not pay or provide services to homeless people at the campground.

This has left many social service providers scrambling to meet the basic needs of homeless campers without explicit direction from the city.

The Salvation Army is stepping in to help in three specific areas: coordinating community efforts, managing donations and managing cases, Division Secretary Kevin Pope said in an interview Tuesday. They hope to relieve some of the pressure and stress on these groups and volunteers, he said.

The Salvation Army has no contract with the city or any other organization, he said.

“It’s just something we feel compelled to do,” Pope said. “…We know that not one agency will be able to do everything there. So how can we join together and make a better community effort? »

Pope said the Salvation Army investigates and screens campers to find out what donations are needed, then coordinates to get those goods to campers.

The Salvation Army will likely set up a donation center for Centennial in Anchorage, away from the campground, where goods can be sorted and delivered to campers as needed, he said.

“We will also step in and help manage some cases. I hope to work with the agencies that have been there or other agencies that want to help with the goal of helping those who want it, in terms of trying to find housing, trying to find other resources or community resources to help them,” he said.

In its statement, the mayor’s office did not elaborate on what the onsite management of customer care at Centennial will entail. He did not immediately respond to emailed questions and an interview request from the Daily News.

Many people have arrived at Centennial Campground with little or no camping gear or the elements, and some have disabilities, serious mental health needs, and suffer from substance abuse issues. Many had no choice but to camp when the city closed its mass shelter, which it opened at the start of the pandemic.

[‘Nothing but rain’: Anchorage homeless try to cope with a soggy mess at Centennial Park Campground]

So far, volunteers have helped coordinate donations, and Bean’s Cafe has stepped up to provide meals delivered daily to the campground, among other disparate efforts to help.

Pope said the Salvation Army will not institute or enforce rules at the campground, or staff it 24/7.

“The muni said it’s still a campground, all the rules that would apply to the campground still apply,” Pope said. The Salvation Army will not be responsible for monitoring, he said.

A staff member will likely be on site Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., acting as a resource person, he said. Other staff and volunteers will be on hand as needed to support changing needs and Centennial’s various efforts, he said.

It plays a very different role than the organizations that at different times ran Sullivan’s mass shelter. Management of the Sullivan was paid for by the city and implemented through municipal contracts that included stipulations for guest-to-staff ratios, safety measures plans, and other specifics.

The mayor’s office did not say how long it plans to continue permitted camping at Centennial for homeless residents. City code imposes a 14-day time limit on camping in city parks, but the limit has been exceeded.

Homeless advocates, Assembly members, service organizations and community groups have all sounded the alarm about conditions and safety at the campground. They asked the city to plan the movement of the most vulnerable in the camp to shelters or housing.

A woman died last week at the campsite and on Sunday a man was arrested after a fight at the campsite and assaulting officers. Four bears were killed by state agents after raiding campsites for food and entering tents with campers inside. The city initially did not provide means for campers to keep bear-safe food, but later provided bear-safe storage containers.

[‘Deplorable,’ dangerous conditions at East Anchorage campground, homeless advocates say]

The Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness and Continuum of Care Advisory Council, which coordinate the city’s homelessness response system, called on the mayor’s office to implement policy and operational changes majors in the campground, starting with HUD Federal Best Practices. They called for an on-site homeless service provider to manage operations, a staff-to-client ratio of 1:30 and keeping the camp population at no more than 150 people.

“We continue to receive reports of unsafe activity and the occupants’ basic needs are not being met. Without staffing the location with an experienced homeless service provider 24/7, we do not believe the current arrangement can be secure. And even with staff, we urge that the census in Centennial be reduced,” they said in a July 15 letter to the mayor.

The Salvation Army has worked with the city’s health department and parks department and observed that “it’s a lot of individual agencies and grassroots groups trying to respond,” Pope said.

“And we just said, ‘Hey, here we are,'” he said. “We have experience in disaster and emergency management, as well as power and coordination…So we are ready to step in and see if we can, as a neutral party, work with any the world and see if we can get a better handle on what’s going on there.

The Salvation Army provided tents and cots for people the city moved to the campground from the Sullivan Arena shelter.

The executive director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, Meg Zaletel, said the coalition was not involved in any decisions or discussions about the Salvation Army’s management efforts in Centennial and did not was informed on Tuesday by the mayor’s announcement. Zaletel is also a member of the Midtown Assembly, a separate role.

“I’m happy to see that a supplier is coming on site,” Zaletel said. “I don’t know if this provider will have control of the site, be able to establish rules and enforce them. I’m not sure what they mean by case management and care coordination.

The Salvation Army called a meeting Wednesday with several homeless service providers in Anchorage, she said.

[Fish and Game kills 4 bears in East Anchorage campground that city repurposed for the homeless]

The Salvation Army, which is an international Christian religious and charitable organization, operated legal homeless campsites in other Lower 48 towns. In Santa Cruz, California, the organization was chosen by the city to run a sanctioned homeless camp for 60 people. In Aurora, Colorado, the Salvation Army and the city held a “Secure camping site” for 32 people.

In Anchorage, the Salvation Army operates an emergency family shelter, the McKinnell House, and runs drug treatment at its Clitheroe Center facility, currently working to bring a 68-bed facility damaged during the 2018 earthquake.

On Monday, the coalition suspended coordination of outreach efforts on the streets of Centennial for security reasons. The organization will reassess security at Centennial in the next 48 hours, Zaletel said.

Substance abuse and loud verbal and physical altercations are on the rise, residents and volunteers report.

The coalition estimates that 350 or more people live in Anchorage homeless, including Centennial. Private shelters and transitional housing options in the city are largely full, with waiting lists.

The rainy days left those in the Centenary facing soggy living conditions, along with others living in unauthorized camps scattered across the city’s green spaces. Some campers have flooded tents and soaked clothing and gear. Others, with better tents, tarps and gear, stayed dry and warm.

“I still have very significant concerns about people with high needs who are not housed in our community,” Zaletel said. Some have recently been referred to the city’s new complex care facility at the former Sockeye Inn, she said. It’s helpful, but complex care is complete or nearly complete, she said.

With an East Anchorage shelter and navigation center for 150 people unlikely to be completed until winter begins, and with no shelter space or more housing options, city officials, service providers and advocacy groups generally agree that the campground will remain the status quo for the time being.

Three Assembly members proposed a funding package that would help bring 120 permanent supportive housing units and 60 rental units online, and permanently secure 130 units at the GuestHouse Inn already used as transitional housing. If the package is approved, new housing efforts will take time and likely months, at best available before winter.

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