Mayor Dave Bronson of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, has proposed a unique, though controversial solution to homelessness in his city: paying for plane tickets to get the homeless population out of the bitter winter cold and into warmer climates or locations where they may have relatives.
“When people approach us and want to go to someplace warm or they want to go to some town where they have family or friends that can take care of them, if they choose to go there, we’ll support that,” Bronson told reporters last week.
Under his plan, people experiencing homelessness can choose to move to the lower 48 states or other parts of Alaska where it may be above the freezing point.
The proposal follows the closure of a shelter at the George M. Sullivan Arena, which served over 500 homeless people during Alaska’s harsh winters until it was repurposed into a venue for concerts and hockey games.
Implementation of Bronson’s proposed plan faces obstacles that include a lack of funding and adequate care facilities. There is also growing tension between the Republican mayor and the liberal-leaning Anchorage Assembly, which is set to decide next month on a halted construction of a shelter and navigation center on the city’s east side.
Bronson also said his administration has not yet identified a funding source for the relocation program, although Alexis Johnson, the city’s homeless director, has been tasked with coming up with a plan.
Critics of Bronson’s proposal argue that the municipality is shirking responsibility by exporting the issue elsewhere.
“Republicans want to tell a false story that Democratic-run cities are falling apart but in reality, these ridiculous stunts just show the difference between leaders who confront crises by rolling up their sleeves to address issues and leaders who confront crises by rolling over to shift the problem,” said Zach Seidl, Los Angeles deputy mayor of communications.
The Associated Press reported that approximately 43% of Anchorage’s more than 3,000 homeless residents are Alaska Natives, and Bronson’s proposal also prompted criticism from those who deemed it culturally insensitive.
“The reality is there is no place to send these people because this is their land. Any policy that we make has to pay credence to that simple fact. This is Dena’ina land, this is Native land,” Christopher Constant, chair of the Anchorage Assembly, told the AP. “And so we cannot be supporting policies that would take people and displace them from their home, even if their home is not what you or I would call home.”
Several other cities, including San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, have adopted measures similar to Bronson’s proposal.
“I have a moral imperative here, and that’s to save lives,” Bronson said.
Bronson’s proposal is timed with the winter looming and an alarming rate of deaths among the homeless in Anchorage, especially after the closure of the large shelter at the Sullivan Arena.
Despite the challenging logistics, some homeless individuals reportedly have expressed interest in the offer, disillusioned with the city’s prospects and anxious about the arctic winter ahead.
“I think a ticket this morning to Los Angeles costs 286 bucks, it costs us $100 plus or minus a few dollars every day to house someone, and we don’t have a place to put them in a large shelter this winter,” Bronson said. “We’re here to save lives, that’s my job.”
He clarified that the choice of destination would be entirely up to the individual experiencing homelessness.
Updated Aug. 1, 2023, 11:26 p.m.