City is reopening Ben Boeke Ice Arena to sports

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The Berkowitz administration has decided to not use the Ben Boeke Ice Arena as a homeless shelter this fall.

“We are going to pull that arena off the table and get back on track with putting ice into the arena,” said Jason Bockenstedt, chief of staff for Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.

Bockenstedt spoke during a work session of the Anchorage Assembly on Monday. Economic and community development director Chris Schutte said workers have laid ice on one of the arena’s two rinks and that figure skaters would use the rink Monday afternoon. The other rink will have ice and be open for use the day after Labor Day, he said.

The city used Ben Boeke as a mass shelter for homeless women, couples and LGBTQ residents early in the pandemic but closed it for that purpose in early June. The decision to use Ben Boeke to shelter the homeless frustrated some members of the hockey and figure skating community, as well as parents of school-age children who would have attended summer camps at the facility. When city officials mentioned earlier this month that they might need to use the ice arena again for shelter, it triggered a large demonstration last week outside Assembly chambers as the body met. Now that the decision has been made to return Ben Boeke to its former use, hockey representatives say they are thrilled.

“We’re going to have over 4,000 kids participating in more than 500 hours” of ice time in those rinks, said Kirk Kullberg, mite director with Anchorage Hockey Association, thanking the administration. “It’s going to be a huge improvement for their physical activity, social, and it definitely helps out with their mental state during this trying time.”

With winter approaching and the ice arena returning to its regular status, the administration is working with the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness and service providers to come up alternative housing for people experiencing homelessness, Bockenstedt said. The Assembly recently approved $1 million in CARES Act funding for rapid rehousing efforts, funding that should help secure some apartments or hotel rooms for people seeking shelter, Bockenstedt said.

Those dollars are sorely needed, according to homeless service providers. Even before the pandemic, Anchorage was short 1,500 rapid rehousing units for adults and 200 for families with children, said Jasmine Boyle, executive director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness. With an estimated 11,000 jobs expected to be lost this year end in Anchorage due to coronavirus impacts, Boyle is expecting a large wave of newly homeless residents to be needing services.

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