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Community raises concerns over safety in area around Sullivan Arena shelter

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – People who live and work near the Sullivan Arena, which has re-opened as an emergency homeless shelter, are concerned about crime in the area.

SJ Klein owns a business just up from the arena and he’s also a member of the Fairview Community Council. Klein said since the Sullivan re-opened as an emergency homeless shelter on Oct. 1, the neighborhood has seen an uptick in crime.

“It’s worse this time around in terms of the needs of the people that are on the street,” said Klein. “We’ve seen more death, we’ve seen a lot more fires, those are the two main life-safety issues that we are facing right now.”

Because the shelter is accepting far fewer overnight guests than it did when it first opened in 2020, Klein said there are more people milling about in the neighborhood, and some of them are causing trouble.

Klein, who said he’s put out at least three fires on his property in the last month and a half, said a lot of the trouble happens in an area behind his business, which has been nicknamed “hangover hill.”

Vivian Washington, who said she often stays at the Sullivan, was hanging out on the hill Tuesday afternoon with a group of people. Washington said most people who loiter or light fires in the neighborhood don’t mean harm, instead, they are trying to stay warm. She said that’s especially true for people who chose not to go into the shelter, who oftentimes have addictions or mental health problems.

“Most of them, they don’t want to check in because they can’t go in with alcohol, they can’t go in with weapons, they can’t go in with drugs, so a lot of them choose to be out here because that’s what they want to do,” she said.

Klein doesn’t think that’s fair to the neighborhood and he wants the city to do more. Recently, members of the Fairview Community Council sent Mayor Dave Bronson a letter asking for specific items to address the problem. Klein said they got little response, although the city’s homeless coordinator did attend at least one meeting.

“As a neighborhood, we want to see needle exchange, trash clean-up, port-a-potties, you know, and outreach,” said Klein. “People on the street going out and engaging with people and telling them, ‘hey you can’t be here, let’s get you someplace else.’ And I think if we did that, I think the problems would be a lot better, but so far, nobody is spending money on that.”

On Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly is expected to vote on a reallocation of $400,000 in federal money that could help address the problem. If passed, the one-time funding could be used for clean-up and some security in the area, although the service would not begin until early January.

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