Anchorage to consider ordinance for housing alcoholics

Posted: Monday, February 15, 2010

ANCHORAGE - The Anchorage Assembly will consider an ordinance Tuesday to regulate housing for severe alcoholics.

The ordinance would set up requirements for a public hearing and approval by a city commission, and it would include restrictions intended to keep such projects out of neighborhoods and away from parks and schools.

One such neighborhood not wanting that type of program in their area is the Fairview Community Council, which has voted to oppose a proposal to turn a neighborhood hotel into housing for street alcoholics.

Residents in the neighborhood said they feel the plan could lead to more problems.

But supporters said it would be the first large-scale effort to provide housing for chronic inebriates in Anchorage. The Rural Community Action Program, a private agency that works with homeless alcoholics, is trying to buy the Red Roof Inn to turn it into a place where chronic inebriates could live without having to quit drinking.

The philosophy, known as "housing first," is similar to a program in Seattle. The Seattle program said it costs about $14,000 a year to house each resident, compared to $86,000 when they were on the street.

A taxpayer-funded downtown Seattle apartment building houses about 75 people and offers counseling and social services with the aim of getting even those who can't stop drinking into healthier situations - and lowering costs for services such as jail time and detoxification.

Melinda Freemon, director of the Rural Community Action Program's Anchorage division, said the agency will address the neighborhood's concerns, such as making sure tenants don't loiter outside or panhandle.

The deal is moving ahead, she said.

"Our offer (to buy the property) has been made and accepted," she said, though it is contingent on the agency obtaining grants to make the purchase. The seller was asking $1.2 million if a nonprofit agency buys the property, Freemon has said.

But Fairview residents said they feel they have enough in their neighborhood already. They voted 21-2 on Thursday against the plan, even though the project can move forward without approval from the community council.

"We think Fairview shoulders more than its fair share of these type of services," council president Sharon Chamard said.

The council's resolution is against use of government funds for the project, including the grants RurAL CAP is seeking to buy the property, she said.

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