In a move that has sparked conversation in Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage’s mayor has put forth an unfunded proposal to finance one-way plane tickets for homeless individuals to warmer climates, Your Content has learned.
This initiative aims to prevent these individuals from enduring the harsh winter outdoors.
Anchorage witnessed a record eight deaths due to exposure last year. The recent closure of a large arena, which previously served as a temporary city shelter, is expected to intensify the crisis. Winter temperatures in Anchorage often fall below zero.
Mayor Dave Bronson, during a news conference, stated, “We’ll support those who wish to relocate to a warmer place or a town where they have family or friends to care for them.”
Should the program be implemented, individuals could opt to move to the Lower 48 or another warmer location in Alaska, or to a place where they have family.
During the pandemic, the Sullivan Arena, with a seating capacity of approximately 6,000, was transformed into a mass-care facility. It catered to over 500 homeless individuals during the winters until city officials decided to revert it to its original function of hosting concerts and hockey games.
Despite the opening of some smaller shelters, there is a lack of a large care facility in the city, and homeless services are limited. Nine other smaller shelters offer 614 beds for the homeless. Mayor Bronson’s sudden announcement comes amid political tension over the homelessness crisis between the Republican mayor and the liberal-leaning Anchorage Assembly.
In 2021, Bronson proposed the construction of a shelter and navigation center on the city’s east side. However, the Anchorage Assembly reduced the capacity to only 150 beds. The project was paused when the Bronson administration awarded the contract without Assembly approval. The Assembly is set to decide next month whether to proceed.
The shortage of shelter space this winter could leave an estimated 750 unhoused residents exposed to the cold. “I have a moral imperative here, and that’s to save lives,” Bronson said. “And if that means giving them a few hundred dollars for an airline ticket to go where they want to go, I’m going to do that.”
Anchorage Assembly Chair Christopher Constant told that there have been no formal discussions with the Bronson administration to fund the relocation program.
Bronson has assigned Alexis Johnson, the city’s homeless director, to devise a plan for the program. He stated that it would not be difficult to administer the program. “My job is to make sure they don’t die on Anchorage streets.”
A one-way ticket to Los Angeles cost $289 on Tuesday, which Bronson said was much cheaper than the $100 or so it costs to house someone every day.
When asked if he was simply pushing Anchorage’s problems onto someone else, Bronson said Alaska’s largest city has 40% of the state’s population but 65% of the homeless population. “The taxpayers to whom I’m responsible to can’t keep footing the entire bill,” he said. “We need a statewide solution to a statewide problem.”
The Alaska Legislature did not fund a $25 million request from Anchorage to purchase and operate a shelter. Several cities in the U.S., including San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon, have also offered bus or plane tickets to homeless residents, according to AP.