Anchorage, AK – As part of a coordinated effort to reduce homelessness in Alaska, Weidner Apartment Homes has agreed to purchase the large parcel of land next to the Brother Francis Shelter, as well as the building currently used by Bean’s Café. Through a partnership with the Rasmuson Foundation, the deal clears the way to set up a day-time resource hub in the Third Avenue area, improving long-standing public safety problems, as well as helping more Alaskans get into housing and access essential mental health, substance abuse services, and employment services. Bean’s Café, which has been transitioning their service model toward a meal-delivery program, will relocate to a new space.
“In a city the size of Anchorage, homelessness is a solvable problem when the community works together,” said Weidner founder and CEO W. Dean Weidner. “With resources, coordination, and support, we know that we can help hundreds of vulnerable people get the care, shelter, and support they need to get back on their feet.”
In 2019, Weidner and Rasmuson were part of a group of organizations committing to spend $40 million over the coming years to help solve homelessness in Anchorage. Both pledged to contribute $10 million, and the current purchase is a significant piece of that investment. The new project will improve facilities that already exist in the Third Avenue area, in the process fixing long-standing problems with safety, cleanliness, and limited services available during day-time hours. There are no plans to add shelter capacity.
“This is a way for private companies and foundations like ours to make Anchorage a safer, kinder, and healthier place to live,” said Diane Kaplan, Rasmuson Foundation President & CEO. “We will augment work already being done by the city and nonprofits as part of the broader Anchored Home plan. One way we can help is funding to expand and improve the Third Avenue area.”
In the last five years, new programs and partnerships between the MOA and its nonprofit partners have helped people get into permanent housing. But much of this progress has been slowed due to the impacts of COVID-19, which also pushed additional people to seek relief from limited available resources. Most notably, the city opened
an emergency shelter in the Sullivan Arena to adhere to social distance protocols to prevent community spread of the virus. An unforeseen benefit to the forced move was the ability to directly connect shelter users to a temporary resource hub. Linking people with services helped shorten the time clients were in the shelter at Sullivan Arena, and this same approach has been successful in other cities by providing a pathway off the streets.
The Third Avenue investment will create these direct links to services and allow for the creation of a permanent day-time resource hub. Through Weidner’s acquisition of the land and the building that currently houses Bean’s Café, the area available for serving homeless and vulnerable individuals will change substantially. It also creates the opportunity for much-needed safety and design improvements, including a buffer around the area that will allow for adaptive changes to the site over time. Rasmuson will lead the efforts of creating a pilot program for guiding people into treatment, support services, and housing.
Both Rasmuson and Weidner, as well as the Municipality, are connecting with nearby residents, community councils, businesses, and other stakeholders to solicit feedback and guidance on how best to proceed. Everyone agrees a permanent solution depends on the input of everyone who lives and works in the area.
“These philanthropic contributions will make a huge difference along Third Avenue and throughout our community,” said Anchorage Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson. “For years, Bean’s and Brother Francis have been stretched far beyond what their facilities and the area were ever designed to handle. Without fail, they have continued to step up as the demand kept rising, but the need has far exceeded the resources available. This critical and generous investment gives Anchorage the ability to improve this area, while simultaneously bringing services online to help people exit homelessness.”
The Weidner and Rasmuson acquisition does not involve any taxpayer money.
Both of the partners on the project also wish to express their thanks to Bean’s Cafe, Brother Francis Shelter, and the Alleva family for helping make these complex transactions go as smoothly as possible.
The sale is set to be finalized in the second quarter, with improvements scheduled to follow shortly after.